The carnivorous bladderwort, known as Utricularia gibba by researchers, packs a lot of genes in a tiny genome. A new study is out in the journal Molecular Biology and Evolution, and breaks down the plant’s unique genome.

According to researchers, the plant has more genes than well-known plant species like grapes or coffee – yet it has a smaller genome.

You may be wondering how this is possible? Victor Albert, a University at Buffalo professor of Biological Sciences, says it’s due to ‘rampant’ DNA deletion over time. The bladderwort added and then ditched genetic material at a blistering pace according to Albert.

“The story is that we can see that throughout its history, the bladderwort has habitually gained and shed oodles of DNA,” Albert said in a news release.

Usually with smaller genomes, researchers expect to see small amounts of genes.

I mentioned the grape comparison above. Researchers found the bladderwort genome holds about 80 million base pairs of DNA. That’s six times smaller than a grape. But, the number of genes sits at 28,500 in a bladderwort, more than the 26,300 in a grape.

“When you look at the bladderwort’s history, it’s shedding genes all the time, but it’s also gaining them at an appreciable enough rate, permitting it to stay alive and produce appropriate adaptations for its unique environmental niche,” Albert said.

During the rapid addition and deletion of genes, certain genes proved hardy. Particularly, the genes that create enzymes to break down meat fibers, and genes linked to the biosynthesis of cell walls – a must have for an aquatic plant to keep water from getting inside.

What about the DNA that was deleted over time? Albert says this was non-coding DNA and contained no genes.

Image: Scanning electron micrograph of the bladder of Utricularia gibba. Credit: Enrique Ibarra-Laclette, Claudia Anahí Pérez-Torres and Paulina Lozano-Sotomayor

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