The Great Insect Fair – 2017

This September, the Renner Lab participated in The Great Insect Fair, hosted by the Department of Entomology at Penn State. The fair celebrates insect (and some arthropod!) biodiversity and showcases pollinators, morphological and physiological adaptations, parasite manipulation of host behavior (Zombie ants!), vector-born disease, among other areas (see faculty pages and interests here). This year, we developed a new booth named ‘Centre County Carnivores!’, which introduced the public to carnivorous plants (and their relatives) that grow natively in bog ecosystems surrounding State College, PA. Participants learned about these amazing plants’ unique morphologies for trapping prey (concepts: adaption, convergent evolution, homology, are traps leaves or flowers – why or why not?) and how these amazing plants digest their insect prey (concepts: pH, enzymes, microbial communities). We also demonstrated the activity of cysteine protease, an enzyme used by independent lineages of carnivorous plants to digest prey. It was a great day and our new booth was even featured in a PennLive article!

Image of our Centre County Carnivore! booth. Marcus Schneck, mschneck@pennlive.com

Cysteine protease experiment using pineapple juice (contains bromelain) and gummi worms (contains gelatin protein). Results after 12 hours, L to R: worms, worms + H2O, worms + pineapple juice (worms are almost completely degraded!).

Long-read sequencing uncovers the adaptive topography of a carnivorous plant genome

Our carnivorous bladderwort genome paper came out today in PNAS!

“Carnivorous plants capture and digest animal prey for nutrition. In addition to being carnivorous, the humped bladderwort plant, Utricularia gibba, has the smallest reliably assembled flowering plant genome. We generated an updated genome assembly based on single-molecule sequencing to address questions regarding the bladderwort’s genome adaptive landscape. Among encoded genes, we segregated those that could be confidently distinguished as having derived from small-scale versus whole-genome duplication processes and showed that conspicuous expansions of gene families useful for prey trapping and processing derived mainly from localized duplication events. Such small-scale, tandem duplicates are therefore revealed as essential elements in the bladderwort’s carnivorous adaptation.” Read the entire manuscript here.

Provost’s Award for Best Poster

Undergraduate researchers Zach Johnston and Nick Elliott win the Provost’s Award for the best poster at the San Diego State University Student Research Symposium (SRS). Poster title: “Molecular Evolution and Expression of Defense Genes Underlying Plant Carnivory”. Way to go! The SRS is a two-day event recognizing the outstanding scholarly accomplishments of SDSU students. Find out more about the San Diego State University’s SRS.

International Carnivorous Plant Society

The 2016 ICPS conference was held at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew in England this August 2016. It was a fantastic meeting spanning topics in carnivorous plant systematics, evo-devo, molecular evolution, ecology, biomechanics, and horticulture. We had a chance to visit the famous Kew Herbarium, view a type specimen ofNepenthes rajah, and see some original correspondences with Joseph Hooker. Sir David Attenborough even visited us for a short but glorious moment to receive a painting of Nepenthes attenboroughii! We ended our meeting with a visit to Down House, the home of Charles Darwin. All in all, a great meeting. See you at the next meeting!

Feature on Carnivorous Plants

The Renner Lab provided content related to carnivorous plants and their digestive fluid for Atlas Obscura‘s article featuring man-eating plant myths: “Once the idea of a giant, flesh-eating plant enters the imagination, it can be hard to dislodge. Imagine this: you’re in the jungle, and you discover a plant with surprisingly large, tentacle-like leaves. The clearing is full of a heavy, sweet smell. Maybe there’s an animal skeleton under the plant. Did the leaves move? Was that just the wind? You move closer, and the plant seems to yearn towards you….” Read the full article on Atlas Obscura’s webpage.

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Nepenthes rajah (Photo: Wikimedia)

 

Carnivorous Plant Research Featured on BBC Earth

BBC Earth article “Giant Plants that Eat Meat”, presented by Cat Adams/BBC Campus, examines pitcher plant morphology, digestive enzymes, and unique associations with mammals. Tanya Renner’s research of carnivorous plant digestive enzymes and their similarity to plant defense proteins are featured. Read the article here

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A frog finds a risky perch (credit: Maximilian Weinzierl/Alamy)

Harvard University Visit

Tanya visited Harvard University to give a seminar for the Cambridge Entomological Club. She also had a chance to visit with Dr. Naomi Pierce, Shayla Salzman, and Dr. Leonora Bittleston in the Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology.
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Beautiful poster created by Andrea Golden, CEC secretary/poster designer.