November 9, 2010 | David F. Coppedge

Venus Flytrap Uses Chemical “Brain”

There’s a lowly plant that has a botanical version of muscles and a brain – the Venus flytrap.  It has muscle in its ability to snap its traps shut faster than a bug can escape.  And it has a brain in its ability to distinguish between debris and edible prey.  More about its chemical brain came to light by Japanese researchers, reported Live Science.
    The researchers isolated the chemicals that tell the traps to shut by a process of elimination: collecting all the chemicals in the plant and then trying them out, one by one, to see which ones triggered the action.  They found that two potions are responsible.

The new findings suggest that a Venus flytrap’s chemical signals work much like those in the human brain.  Like neurotransmitters, the plant chemicals accumulate until they affect the plants’ cell membranes, creating electrical imbalances that cells use to communicate.  In the brain, these so-called “action potentials” are the language of neurons.  In a Venus flytrap, they’re the signal that spells dinnertime for the plant and slow digestion for its hapless prey.

Earlier experiments, the article said, showed that the traps’ ability to snap shut in less than a second works because “they snap from convex to concave the same way that a contact lens can flip inside out.”

You can buy these amazing plants at many nurseries.  What a fun way to fascinate kids with science: they can see the trigger hairs in the traps, and learn by observation that it takes two strokes within 30 seconds to get the trap to spring shut – another mechanism to help the plant (which has no eyes or ears) to differentiate between live prey and debris.  Good questions are sure to follow: how could that just happen?  Does the plant have a brain?  Well, sort of.  Help kids realize that even the small, simple things are incredibly complex, and that many sophisticated parts must work together for things like the Venus flytrap to succeed.

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Categories: Amazing Facts

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