The Venus flytrap, native to the wetlands of North and South Carolina, is known for its unique carnivorous nature because it catches small insects between its leaves. To further blur the line between the plant and animal kingdom, new research has shown that Venus flytraps also possess a short-term memory. A new paper published in Nature Plants details these findings from the National Institute for Basic Biology in Okazaki, Japan.

Calcium signaling plays a major role in both plant and animal physiology. In humans, calcium is crucial for sending nerve messages and facilitating muscle movement. Calcium signals appear to have a similar function in Venus flytraps, facilitating the closure of the plant’s famous carnivorous leaves. Increased calcium levels, exceeding a predetermined threshold, trigger the plant to close its leaves. Using gene modification, researchers were able to visually observe this phenomenon. They added genes to the Venus flytrap genome to produce a protein that glows green when exposed to calcium, so that larger amounts of glowing correspond to higher levels of calcium production.

The researchers were then able to see that for the leaves to close, not only must calcium exceed a certain threshold, there must also be two prey signals detected within a 30 second “short-term memory” window. When the sensory hairs of the flytrap are triggered and produce calcium, the plant is able to “remember” these  signals for up to 30 seconds. If a second touch of the hairs occurs within this window, a faster explosion of calcium releases, which tells the plant to close its leaves and trap its prey. This allows the plant to distinguish sensations such as rain from prey landing on its sensitive leaves. Thus, while the plant has no brain or central nervous system, this short-term memory assists in conserving its energy, preventing any unnecessary leaf closures that would not result in a prey capture. 

Hiraku Suda, the paper’s first author, is a graduate student in the Division of Evolutionary Biology at the National Institute for Basic Biology in Okazaki, Japan. His research focuses primarily on the evolution of the molecular mechanism of plant movement. 

Managing Correspondent: Samantha Tracy

Original Article: “Calcium dynamics during trap closure visualized in transgenic Venus flytrap

Press Article: “How Venus flytraps store short-term ‘memories’ of prey

Image Credit: Pixabay

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