Endocytotic uptake of nutrients in carnivorous plants

Plant J. 2012 Jul;71(2):303-13. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-313X.2012.04997.x. Epub 2012 May 17.


Carnivorous plants trap, digest and absorb animals in order to supplement their mineral nutrition. Nutrients absorbed by the plant include different nitrogen species, phosphate, potassium, trace elements and small organic compounds. Uptake is usually thought to be performed via specific channels, but this study provides evidence that endocytosis is involved as well. Traps of the carnivorous plants Nepenthes coccinea, Nepenthes ventrata, Cephalotus follicularis, Drosophyllum lusitanicum, Drosera capensis, Dionaea muscipula, Aldrovanda vesiculosa, Genlisea violacea × lobata, Sarracenia psittacina and Sarracenia purpurea were stained with methylene blue in order to identify possible sites of uptake. The permeable parts of the traps were incubated with fluorescein isothiocyanate labelled bovine serum albumin (FITC-BSA) and other fluorescent endocytosis markers, combined with the soluble protein BSA or respiratory inhibitors. Uptake was studied by confocal microscopy. In Nepenthes, small fluorescent vesicles became visible 1 h after incubation with FITC-BSA. These vesicles fused to larger compartments within 30 h. A similar behaviour was found in the related genera Drosera, Dionaea, Aldrovanda and Drosophyllum but also in Cephalotus with glands of different evolutionary origin. In Genlisea and Sarracenia, no evidence for endocytosis was found. We propose that in many carnivorous plants, nutrient uptake by carriers is supplemented by endocytosis, which enables absorption and intracellular digestion of whole proteins. The advantage for the plant of reducing secretion of enzymes for extracellular digestion is evident.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Transport
  • Cell Membrane / physiology
  • Endocytosis / physiology*
  • Food
  • Magnoliopsida / cytology*
  • Magnoliopsida / enzymology
  • Magnoliopsida / physiology*
  • Microscopy, Fluorescence
  • Models, Biological
  • Plant Leaves / cytology
  • Plant Leaves / physiology