Bladderworts Are a Genetic Mystery

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Bladderworts are a type of carnivorous plant that thrive in freshwater environments and moist, dark soils. A new study has found that at least one species of bladderwort, regarding its genome, functions better and can do more with  less genetic material. The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Buffalo, was published earlier this week in the journal Molecular Biology and Evolution.

The research team recently sequenced the genome of an Utricularia gibba, one of the most common bladderwort species, known as the humped or floating bladderwort. Although this type of bladderwort has many distinctive biological features that set it apart from others in the genus, the unique aquatic plant has an unbelievable short genome.

Researchers found that within the relatively short genome, there are specific genetic sequences that enable its unusual characteristics. These characteristics allow the floating bladderwort to sprout small, filament-like branches, grow stunning yellow flowers, and trap its prey with vacuum pressure, all while flourishing in an aquatic environment.

The way in which the bladderwort functions and has many different types of unique characteristics leads scientists to suggest that possessing a short genome does not translate to a shortage of genetic material. The team found that even though the bladderwort has a small genome, they have many more genes than plants of a more complex nature, including papaya and coffee plants.

The study suggests that floating bladderworts are more than only genetically efficient; they are not repetitive in regards to their genes. Its idiosyncrasies make it very adaptive and efficient. These variable fluctuations make it possible for the bladderwort to pack a heavy amount of genetic information into a compact space.

Victor Albert, a biologist at the University of Buffalo, explained over time the bladderwort has continuously added and lost a great amount of genetic code. Moreover, he said with a more compact genome, the research team identified what they call a “minimal DNA complement”. This means a plant that has a minimal amount of genes – only ones needed to create a simple plant. Though, this is not how the plant functions.

By continuously shedding genes to counter its genetic repetitiveness, the floating bladderwort has become exceptionally efficient of getting rid of DNA and genetic sequencing that have no advantage or biological value. Albert explained when the bladderwort goes through extensive DNA deletion, genes that are less significant or repetitive are lost. The remaining genes are ones that have the ability to withstand the pressure of deletion, so the advantage of having these few remaining genes is very significant.

The research team also found a number of gene enhancements, including meat-dissolving enzymes, making that species of bladderwort stand out in the genus. Though the floating bladderwort contains only a very small amount of useless DNA, it can function on higher level. Scientists have found that nearly 90 percent of the human genome is made up of repetitive, junk genes. Albert said this research can possibly allow geneticists to find and isolate useless, repetitive genes and find out why they are still a part of the human genome.

By Alex Lemieux


New Maine


University Herald

Photo by Kirill Ingatyev – Flickr License