Indian scientists discover glowing carnivorous plants
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Indian scientists discover glowing carnivorous plants

When I was a kid I was fascinated with all things that glowed. Among my collection of glowy things were a green piece of “kryptonite”, silly putty, glowing vampire teeth, a glow-in-the-dark Halloween mask, a squirt gun… the list goes on. I even had a black light and glowing posters of Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix – and I didn’t even smoke weed.

I also had a thing for weird plants and animals. I loved carnivorous plants, especially the Venus flytrap and how it would close its jaws around my finger tip. Too bad they never survived long in my house. Could it have been the lack of flies or perhaps my many finger-food fake-outs?

Imagine my delight while reading a BBC News report describing how scientists in the state of Kerala in South India have discovered glowing carnivorous plants. Took me on a bit of a trip down memory lane, let me tell you.

Findings indicate that the plants attract prey not only by their bright coloring, attractive smells and tasty nectar, but by glowing phosphorescent blue, like my Led Zepp poster. I wonder if they ever attract burnouts with bongs?

These distinct blue emissions were so far not known in carnivorous prey traps. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first study reporting such strong and distinct fluorescence emissions in the plant kingdom.

–Dr Sabulal Baby, Jawaharlal Nehru Tropical Botanic Garden and Research Institute, Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala, India

The poster child of the carnivorous plant world, the Venus flytrap, is thankfully among those examples of flora which can glow with the best of them. Likewise the less exciting, but very decorative, pitcher plant. Scientists used UV 366nm lights to discover the plants’ phosphorescence, but the glow is also perceptible in the dark to many insects and some small mammals, especially ones that listen to Deep Purple.

My personal experience with bioluminescence is limited to catching fireflies and glimpses of glowing phytoplankton on the shores of Greek islands.

Research into bioluminescence has many uses in medicine, particularly in blood tests.

From another BBC report:

For example, by attaching a luminescent protein to an antibody – a protective molecule produced by the body’s immune system – it could be used to diagnose disease. This allowed clinicians to dispense with the radioactive markers that had previously been used in such tests.

Other applications include detecting arsenic in groundwater, drug research and commercial uses such as selling glowing drinks in nightclubs. And so, from kids in the 70s toking under black light posters to the future ravers of tomorrow knocking back glow-in-the-dark Jäger shots, the circle completes itself.


Venus flytrap, pic: Peter Shanks (Flickr CC)