A team of applied mathematicians, physicists, and biologists has discovered how the Venus flytrap snaps up its prey in a mere tenth of a second by actively shifting the curved shape of its mouth-like leaves. Their study, published in the Jan. 27 issue of the journal Nature, investigates the series of events that occur from the time the plants leaves are stimulated to the time the trap is clamped shut.
Superposition of the open and closed leaves of the Venus flytrap. The glass needle in the foreground was used to trigger the closure. Note that the leaves flip by almost turning inside out - similar to the flipping of a contact lens, plastic lid or the reversal of a torn tennis ball. Courtesy of Forterre and Mahadevan.
"Our work complements prior research," says Lakshminarayanan Mahadevan, Gordon McKay Professor of Applied Mathematics and Mechanics in Harvard Universitys Division of Engineering and Applied Sciences and affiliate in the Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology in Harvards Faculty of Arts and Sciences. "In addition to looking at biochemical events, we looked at what happened after the plant was stimulated and found that the rapid closing is due to a snap-buckling instability that the plant itself controls."
To trap its prey, the carnivorous plant relies on both an active biochemical and a passive elastic process, say Mahadevan and former students and postdocs Yoël Forterre, Jan M. Skotheim, and Jacques Dumais. When an insect brushes up against a hair trigger, the plant responds by moving water to actively change the curvature of its leaves. While exactly how the water is moved is not completely understood, the scientists observed that the deformation of the leaves, once stimulated, provided the means by which elastic energy was stored and released, creating a simple yet effective jaw-like movement.
Steve Bradt | EurekAlert!
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