Why Scientists Made Venus Flytraps That Glow

Provoking a Venus flytrap takes a certain amount of finesse. If you brush just one of the trigger hairs inside of its leaves, the plant likely won’t react. But if you trigger it again quickly enough, it will spring into action, swinging its famous mouth shut.

Waiting for a double trip probably keeps the plant from wasting energy on raindrops or other things that aren’t nutritious flies. But despite centuries of interest in the species, no one was quite certain how the plants remember the first trigger in order to act on a second.

In a paper published last week in Nature Plants, researchers reported they had found the cause: calcium ions. By inducing the flytraps to glow when calcium entered their cells, a team of scientists was able to show how the ions build up as the hairs are triggered, eventually causing the snap.

Calcium is used for conveying information between cells in many different life-forms, said Mitsuyasu Hasebe, the leader of the lab at the National Institute for Basic Biology in Okazaki, Japan, where the research was done. The molecule is normally “scarce in the cell, but abundant out of it,” he said, making it easy for cells to recognize and react to changes in concentration.

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