1. Agriculture World

Scientists to Transfer Carnivorous Plant Genes to Crops for Better Pest Resistance

Shipra Singh
Shipra Singh
Pitcher Plant
Pitcher Plant

A breakthrough can occur in the world of agriculture if a team of researchers succeed in their investigation of carnivory-related genes. Actually, a global team of researchers has obtained a grant from Human Frontier Science Program to find out how carnivory-related genes, like those involved in digestion, can help plants to avoid pests and thrive in low-nutrient conditions. The ultimate goal of the team is to create crops that are less dependent on fertilizers and pesticides.  

Sundews

To put it in simple words, scientists are now thinking of using genes from carnivorous plants and placing them in normal crops like tobacco, tomato, and others so that they develop the ability to fight pathogenic  fungi and insects.  

Tanya Renner, Assistant Professor of Entomology at Penn State has this to say, " The study of plants can provide novel solutions for human welfare through improved crops. A key challenge is to efficiently select traits and underlying genes that exert similar functions when transferred from a donor plant to a recipient."  

She added, "We believe that some of the genes involved in carnivory — such as those involved in digesting insects and in maintaining leaf surfaces that prevent insects from escaping — could help to improve pest resistance of crops or create varieties that can grow on increasingly widespread eroded and infertile soils." 

Pitcher plants

Unveiling the secret of carnivorous plants 

According to Renner, the motive behind the evolution of carnivorous plants to become capable of digesting insects was to obtain nutrients in nutrient-deficit conditions. The basic aim was to survive. The process is called convergent evolution in which traits evolve separately in various plant lineages, consisting of 800+ species, in different parts of the Earth.  

One of the objectives of the project of the scientists' team is to identify these convergent genes that make the plants carnivorous. They are mainly interested in three types of carnivorous plants: pitcher plants, butterworts, and sundews.  

Renner says, “It will be the first-ever study of the key genetic underpinnings of plant carnivory on a broad scale.” 

Noteworthy features of carnivorous plants  

According to scientists, butterworts and sundews are flypaper-like plants. They feature sticky hairs on leave  that trap prey.  

Pitcher plants feature pitfall traps that capture insects. They have glue-like, sticky digestive fluid.  

According to Renner, the fluid is secreted by specialized glands situated at base of the pitcher. Scientists call this fluid viscoelastic, as it is elastic like and viscous.  

Now this is what interests scientists. They are working towards identifying the genes of the glue and knowing whether such kind of viscoelasticity can be introduced in normal crops featuring glandular hairs. Two of the "hairy" species are tobacco and tomato.  

Butterworts
Butterworts

Why proteins found in carnivorous plants interests scientists?  

Scientists have found that certain proteins present in digestive fluids of carnivorous plants also contribute to supplying nutrition to plants.  

These proteins display insecticidal and anti-microbial properties. Scientists wish to know whether these proteins can also keep pests at bay and provide added nutrition to crops growing in soil containing low nutrients.  

Benefit of transferring carnivory-related gene to normal crops 

If scientists succeed in their experiments and research, large quantities of fertilizers and pesticides would become redundant. There would be no need for heavy application. This would not only reduce cost of production of crops, but also be beneficial to ecosystem and human health.  

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