If you thought pitcher plants were cool, enter the amazing world of sticky or flypaper traps. These traps are dominated by the genus Drosera, commonly known as the sundews, representing more than 180 species. They are the only genus of active sticky traps, which are most interesting because they often feature moving leaves, and are found in all continents except, of course, Antarctica.
Plants are boring. At least that is what I—as well as countless others—thought in school. Animals seemed far more exciting than studying plants. In hindsight, I wonder why I didn’t find plants interesting. One of the reasons was that I couldn’t see plants moving—with the exception of ‘touch-me-nots’ that rapidly fold inward upon touching—and they aren’t cute and cuddly as mammals are. Later, when I learned that plants produce their own sugars using water, carbon dioxide, and sunlight—a phenomenon we know as photosynthesis and achieved by only a few other life forms— I got a little interested.
But what really piqued my curiosity and captivated me was when I learned that some unusual plants go a step further: they have evolved to ‘eat meat’—insects in particular. We normally expect insects to eat plants, which in turn are preyed on by larger animals, as the food web goes. But when the roles are reversed, it is harder for us to digest that plants can actually play the role of predators.
Our population now is the highest it has ever been, thanks to huge advancements in healthcare. There are more mouths to feed now than ever before. But the amount of land and resources available on earth for farming and cultivation is limited – and despite our immense progress, millions of people across the globe still go to bed hungry. Even worse, climate change is further straining our environment and threatening our food supply. In 2011 alone, tens of thousands of people – not to mention livestock – perished in the East African famine caused by crop failure due to a devastating drought.
What if we can grow crops that are resistant to extreme cold and dry weather? Sound like a good way to solve the hunger crises in poor nations? Well it might just be possible. Researchers have discovered a gene from a grass that when inserted into other plants and overexpressed, results in dramatic improvements in their survival under stressful environmental conditions. What’s more, their growth rate and seed yield is also boosted under non-stressful conditions.