Venus Fly Trap Snapping Mechanism Studied
November 17, 2012

Processes Responsible For Venus Fly Trap’s Snapping Mechanism Studied

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

The mechanics behind the way that a Venus fly trap snaps its leaves in order to trap and feed upon insects, and how that process could one day be used to improve upon a plethora of different products, is the topic of new research by experts at the National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) and Aix-Marseille University in Marseille, France.

As the American Institute of Physics (AIP) points out in a November 16 statement detailing the work of the French, plants have no muscles, but the Venus fly trap (or Dionaea muscipula) can hydrodynamically shut its leaves to capture its prey in just one-tenth of a second.

"This astonishingly rapid display of botanical movement has long fascinated biologists," the AIP said. "Commercially, understanding the mechanism of the Venus fly trap's leaf snapping may one day help improve products such as release-on-command coatings and adhesives, electronic circuits, optical lenses, and drug delivery."

Towards that end, a team of scientists led by Dr. Mathieu Colombani is building on previous work that found that the curvature of the plant's leaf undergoes changes while closing, due to a "snap-buckling instability" in the leaf's structure that was linked to the "shell-like geometry" of the leaves. Colombani and colleagues are now conducting experiments in order to discover what physical mechanisms are responsible for those movements.

"The extremely high pressure inside the Venus fly trap cells prompted us to suspect that changes with a cell's pressure regime could be a key component driving this rapid leaf movement," he explained.

Colombani's team will be using a microfluidic pressure probe in their research. They will be using the probe to isolate and measure individual Venus fly trap cells -- a difficult process, because the plant itself must be rendered immobile using dental silicone before the probe can be inserted, the AIP said. The probe itself must be inserted using a micromanipulator, and binoculars are required in order to guide them during the process.

The researchers "take pressure measurements before and after leaf closure," the institute added. "They also measure cell wall elasticity by injecting or removing a known amount of liquid and recording the cellular responses, as well as take other measurements." According to Colombani, they are hoping to explain how the snapping mechanism occurs by measuring the osmotic pressure and elasticity of the cells of the Dionaea muscipula leaves.

Their findings will be presented during the American Physical Society's (APS) Division of Fluid Dynamics's (DFD) 65th meeting, which begins Sunday, November 18 in San Diego, California.