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Plants do sums to get through the night, researchers show

Posted on July 1, 2013
Professors Martin Howard and Alison Smith

Professors Martin Howard and Alison Smith

New research shows that to prevent starvation at night, plants perform accurate arithmetic division. The calculation allows them to use up their starch reserves at a constant rate so that they run out almost precisely at dawn.

“This is the first concrete example in a fundamental biological process of such a sophisticated arithmetic calculation.” said mathematical modeller Professor Martin Howard from the John Innes Centre.

Plants feed themselves during the day by using energy from the sun to convert carbon dioxide into sugars and starch. Once the sun has set, they must depend on a store of starch to prevent starvation.

In research to be published in the open access journal eLife, scientists at the John Innes Centre show that plants make precise adjustments to their rate of starch consumption. These adjustments ensure that the starch store lasts until dawn even if the night comes unexpectedly early or the size of the starch store varies.

The John Innes Centre scientists show that to adjust their starch consumption so precisely they must be performing a mathematical calculation – arithmetic division.

“The capacity to perform arithmetic calculation is vital for plant growth and productivity,” said metabolic biologist Professor Alison Smith.

“Understanding how plants continue to grow in the dark could help unlock new ways to boost crop yield.”

Read more at: Phys.org

 

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