Life sucks when you’re a bladderwort

This is a colourised scanning electron micrograph of the bladder of utricularia gibba, the humped bladderwort plant.
A colourised scanning electron micrograph of the bladder of Utricularia gibba, the humped bladderwort plant.
Enrique Ibarra-Laclette, Claudia Anahí Pérez-Torres and Paulina Credit: Lozano-Sotomayor.

The tiny bladders of the aquatic humped bladderwort plant are key to its evolutionary success. The bladders, just a millimetre in length, use vacuum pressure to suck in prey. The process takes a fraction of a second, and anything that brushes against the appendages, triggering the bladder trap, is fair game.

Just how valuable the plant’s carnivorous lifestyle has been is shown by the results of an improved genomic study of the plant, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Over millions of years the species has repeatedly retained and enhanced genetic material associated with its carnivorous nature, despite tremendous evolutionary pressure to delete DNA.

“We used bioinformatics to identify genes that were preserved and enriched in the species,” explains one of the genome sequencers, Victor Albert, of the University at Buffalo College of Arts and Sciences, “and when we did that, these genes related to a carnivorous lifestyle were the ones that stood out. They were screaming out at us, telling us to look at them.”

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