MessageToEagle.com - Plants perform accurate arithmetic division in order to prevent starvation at
night, a new study shows. 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.
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."
During the night, mechanisms inside the leaf measure the size of the starch store and estimate the length
of time until dawn.
Information about time comes from an internal clock, similar to our own body clock.
The size of the starch
store is then divided by the length of time until dawn to set the correct rate of starch consumption, so
that, by dawn, around 95% of starch is used up.
"The calculations are precise so that plants prevent starvation but also make the most efficient use
of their food," said Professor Smith.
"If the starch store is used too fast, plants will starve and stop growing during the night. If the store
is used too slowly, some of it will be wasted."
Research is published in the open access journal
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