A Case Of Advanced Bio-Engineering - Editorial

Most are familiar with the Venus flytrap. The carnivorous flytrap is indigenous to the southeastern United States but is far more popular as a cultivated house plant. They are darkly curious with their hinged leaves edged with little claws that trap insects and spiders when they disturb little hairs on the leaves.

We were interested to learn recently that carnivorous plants are not so uncommon and that there is even a carnivorous plant native to the Cape.

The sundew is not as beastly as the Venus flytrap. Rather than grab its prey, insects that land on it get stuck in a gooey substance on hairs that stem from its leaves.

Both plants are fascinating adaptations of nature. Both live in soils too poor to support other plants by absorbing nutrients from insects, in addition to what they get from the soil.

And the flytrap’s hair triggers will not set the trap unless they are disturbed more than once in a 20-second period. That way the plant won’t waste energy closing every time the wind or something other than food disturbs it.

How it “learned” that is a mystery.

The sundew’s mystery is in the goo with which it entraps its prey. It is complicated stuff that scientists are studying for possible development of new adhesives and tissue engineering. This little largely overlooked little plant may have something to teach humankind.

It’s humbling in a way—or it should be. We humans are proud of our technology and the recent pace of its development. Nature moves much more slowly but in some ways its engineering is still ahead of ours.

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