Quirks & Quarks

A bug-eating plant can digest gluten better than we can

Carnivorous plants may hold the secret to digesting gluten
Pitcher Plant. Nepenthes. Also locally known as "Monkey Cup". (Richard W Sinyem)

When you think of carnivorous plants, like the Venus flytrap, it may not occur to you that one of those types of plants can digest gluten better than we can. Yet that's exactly what a Dr. David Schriemer from the University of Calgary has found. The results of his study were recently published in the journal Scientific Reports. The carnivorous plant in question is a tropical pitcher plant, better known as 'Monkey Cups'. The flower that traps the bugs and looks like a little pitcher is about the size of your thumb. Inside the pitcher are precious digestive juices that could one day spell huge relief for people with Celiac disease. We all have enzymes in us that act like molecular scissors to break down gluten. But, gluten doesn't get broken down all the way. And it's those partially broken down pieces that causes the immune system of those with Celiac disease to overreact. The results can be severe -- from stomach cramps and chronic diarrhea, to weight loss, even bowel cancer.

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