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Phosphorus Deficiency Induces Carnivorous Glandular Leaves: Publication in New Phytologist

Phosphorus Deficiency Induces Carnivorous Glandular Leaves: Publication in New Phytologist

© Traud Winkelmann | LUH
A carnivorous leaf of Triphyophyllum peltatum with glands excreting a sticky liquid to capture insect prey.

Triphyophyllum peltatum is a rare tropical African liana, and it is unique due to its secondary metabolites: This has already generated interest in basic research for some time, as it shows most promising activities against pancreatic cancer and leukemia cells, and against pathogens causing malaria and other diseases.

Carnivory on demand: glandular leaves in the African liana Triphyophyllum peltatum

Moreover, it is unique in its facultative carnivory. The plant forms three types of leaves: leaves of the first growth phase, carnivorous glandular leaves, and leaves with hooks for the liana phase. The trigger for carnivory was so far unknown, mainly because the plant is difficult to propagate and cultivate. Researchers at Leibniz University Hannover (LUH) and the Julius-Maximilians University of Würzburg (JMU) have now solved this problem by establishing both in vitro and greenhouse cultures. 

In vitro shoots were subjected to stressors and deficiencies of the major nutrients 

In teamwork across institutes and universities, Traud Winkelmann (Institute of Horticultural Production Systems), Anne Herwig (Institute of Soil Science, LUH), Gerhard Bringmann (Institute of Organic Chemistry, JMU) and Rainer Hedrich (Julius von Sachs Institute of Biosciences, JMU) searched for inductors that switch the plants to the carnivorous state. In their just released paper in the scientific journal “New Phytologist” they present their findings: Among different possible stressors tested, formation of traps was observed only under phosphorus deficiency. Phosphorus starvation was found essential and sufficient to induce carnivory. At their natural stands in tropical African rainforests on nutrient-poor soils, carnivory can be assumed to allow T. peltatum to access phosphorus from their insect prey. This insight is a breakthrough for future molecular analysis of the roots of carnivory and enables future studies to decipher the molecular mechanism of demand-driven carnivory.

The publication appeared in New Phytologist: a leading international journal focusing on high quality, original research across the broad spectrum of plant sciences, from intracellular processes through to global environmental change. The journal is owned by the New Phytologist Foundation, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to the promotion of plant science.