FEB 09, 2021 5:26 AM PST

Venus Flytraps Generate Magnetic Fields

WRITTEN BY: Carmen Leitch

The Venus flytrap (Dionaea muscipula) might be the most famous carnivorous plant; it can entice prey to land on its leaf lobes, which it can shut like a trap. Just like the signals that flash through the human body as we move, the plant uses electrical impulses known as action potentials to close those lobes. Research published in Scientific Reports has now indicated that the action potentials in the Venus flytrap also generate small magnetic fields that can be recorded with devices called atomic magnetometers.

Image credit: Pixabay

"You could say the investigation is a little like performing an MRI scan in humans," explained physicist Anne Fabricant. "The problem is that the magnetic signals in plants are very weak, which explains why it was extremely difficult to measure them with the help of older technologies."

In the Venus flytrap, if the sensitive hairs on the leaf lobes are stimulated, an action potential moves through the plant. If two occur in succession, the trap closes and prey will be locked inside and digested. The trap can be stimulated in several ways, such as injury, touch, salt, water, heat, or cold.

Action potentials in the human body come from the movement of ions across membranes, which creates an electrical gradient. Neurons use action potentials to communicate. Electrical activity in neurons can be recorded in several ways, including electroencephalography (EEG), and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Plants can also generate electrical signals that move through a network of cells, similar to a nervous system. In the Venus flytrap, magnetic signals have now been linked to this electrical activity.

"We have been able to demonstrate that action potentials in a multicellular plant system produce measurable magnetic fields, something that had never been confirmed before," said Anne Fabricant, a graduate candidate in Professor Dmitry Budker's research group at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) and the Helmholtz Institute Mainz (HIM).

Living organisms are known to generate magnetic fields, and at least one scientist has even suggested that some people can sense magnetic fields. But there's still a lot we don't know about magnetic fields in plants. In this research, the scientists used sensitive atomic magnetometers instead of bulky superconducting-quantum-interference-device (SQUID) magnetometers that are typically used in plant studies.

The atomic magnetometers showed that the flytraps were producing magnetic signals that have maximum amplitudes of 0.5 picotesla (a level that is millions of times lower than our planet's magnetic field). "The signal magnitude recorded is similar to what is observed during surface measurements of nerve impulses in animals," said Fabricant.

Further studies will investigate even smaller magnetic signals in other types of plants. It may one day be possible to use these magnetic fields to help agricultural plants respond to temperature or environmental changes.

Sources: AAAS/Eurekalert! via Johannes Gutenberg Universitaet Mainz, Scientific Reports

About the Author
  • Experienced research scientist and technical expert with authorships on over 30 peer-reviewed publications, traveler to over 70 countries, published photographer and internationally-exhibited painter, volunteer trained in disaster-response, CPR and DV counseling.
You May Also Like
FEB 07, 2021
Cell & Molecular Biology
Watching the Body Plan Emerge
FEB 07, 2021
Watching the Body Plan Emerge
Animals grow from what looks like a clump of cells, but those cells organize into specific patterns, laying the right fo ...
FEB 10, 2021
Plants & Animals
Is the Nano-Chameleon the World's Smallest Reptile Species?
FEB 10, 2021
Is the Nano-Chameleon the World's Smallest Reptile Species?
Say “hello!” to the nano-chameleon, a top contender for the world’s smallest reptile. According to the ...
MAR 09, 2021
Microbiology
Dogs' Paws Are Cleaner Than Their Owners' Shoes
MAR 09, 2021
Dogs' Paws Are Cleaner Than Their Owners' Shoes
Assistance dogs are vital to many people who need them to perform daily tasks, but are sometimes denied entry to places ...
MAR 29, 2021
Earth & The Environment
Just discovered, already endangered
MAR 29, 2021
Just discovered, already endangered
Research published recently in Zootaxa details the finding of two species of screech owls that live in the Amazon and At ...
APR 28, 2021
Plants & Animals
Insight Into the Evolution of Madagascar's 'Horned' Crocodile
APR 28, 2021
Insight Into the Evolution of Madagascar's 'Horned' Crocodile
Madagascar is home to many unusual animals. A skull from one - the 'horned' crocodile - can be seen in this image by M. ...
JUN 17, 2021
Genetics & Genomics
Fish Adapted to Toxins Pass Epigenetic Changes Onto Offspring
JUN 17, 2021
Fish Adapted to Toxins Pass Epigenetic Changes Onto Offspring
Parents pass down their genes to their offspring, and it seems that epigenetic features, which can affect gene activity ...
Loading Comments...