Meat-eating flower has super DNA

By Alejandro Freixes, CCNN Head Writer

Utricularia_gibba_flower_01
Who knew a killer could be so pretty?

There’s this flower that likes to eat meat. It’s not a venus fly trap like you might have seen before, with those big green spiky mouths that eat flies. No, see, it’s rather pleasant looking. That’s a picture of it right over there to the right. Would look nice in your backyard, right?

Well guess what? This plant, called the Utricularia gibba (try saying that three times fast, heck, try saying it once), grows in shallow water. Because it lives in a tough place, it has to eat insects, small fish, and tadpoles for breakfast, lunch, and dinner in order to get strong.

How does it catch food if it’s just a flower? I mean, fish and tadpoles can be pretty quick if you’ve ever tried to catch one before. Well, these flowers happen to also go by the name of “humped bladderwort,” and that’s because they have these little humps that can open their mouths and suck animals inside. As soon as a small unfortunate creature brushes by them, they snatch it for a delicious snack.

What’s especially cool about this plant is that scientists have recently discovered the flower uses most of its DNA – the building blocks of life inside of us – for important functions. See, there’s this big debate in science right now about whether “junk DNA” does anything important compared to regular DNA. For example, humans have 98% “junk DNA!” That’s a whole lot of lazy DNA hanging around inside us. This flower, however, only has 3% “junk DNA.”  Because it’s such a lean, mean, fighting machine, scientists are using it to better understand why some plants and animals have tons of useful DNA, and others have more mysterious “junk DNA.”