It's the day (and night) of the Triffids! Research reveals that plants use complicated calculations to regulate their energy reserves
Putting anyone who has woken up at night to polish off the remaining goodies in their fridge to shame, new research shows that plants use maths to stave off hunger until the morning.
During the night, plants calculate how much food they need to save themselves from starvation almost precisely until dawn.
Plants feed in the day using a process called photosynthesis. This harnesses energy from the sun to convert carbon dioxide into sugars and starch. But once the sun sets, they must depend on a store of starch to make it to the morning.
The research was conducted by the John Innes Centre in Norwich, an independent institution specialising in plant science and microbiology. It suggests that the precision with which plants adjust their use of starch shows they are performing a mathematical calculation. Instead of a level of use set at the onset of darkness, plants continuously compute the food they need during the night.
"This is the first concrete example in biology of such a sophisticated arithmetic calculation," said Professor Martin Howard, a mathematical modeller at the centre.
Experiments have shown that even when night comes unexpectedly and a plant's supply of food is gone, or the amount of starch already stored varies, plants are able to make adjustments to the supply until dawn.
Professor Alison Smith, a metabolic biologist at John Innes, said: "The capacity to perform arithmetic calculation is vital for plant growth and productivity. The calculations are precise so that plants prevent starvation but also make the most efficient use of their food. 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."
Researchers discovered that the size of the starch store and the time until dawn is encoded in the concentrations of two kinds of molecules. Plants use the ratio between the two to make a mathematic division.
Supported by the idea that cells can use proteins to store and process information through a network, this research also has potential outside the botanical world.
It could be used to explain how the migrating stint, a small bird, travels for 5,000km and yet retains, upon arrival, enough fat to last half a day. Similarly, male emperor penguins that incubate eggs in anticipation of the female's return only reach a critical level of hunger depletion when their partner is expected back.
educationTo mark International Women's Day, Sarah Brown on how charities have brought proper joined-up thinking to the delivery of education
Dolphins ‘deliberately get high’ on puffer fish nerve toxins by carefully chewing and passing them around
Scientists must stop using 'weirdo words' if they want to convince the public that climate change is real, admits the woman in charge of the next major UN summit
The recent winter storms caused the greatest loss of trees in a generation, says The National Trust
10 best hiking boots
Peatlands put in peril as demand for grouse shooting takes off
- 1 The future of sex: The first female condoms were derided, mistrusted and shunned - but will their modern counterparts catch on?
- 2 South African rhino finally put down after roaming Kruger park for days with horn hacked off and bullet in brain
- 3 Study suggests that 'gaydars' are real - at least for women
- 4 Man stabbed with Legend of Zelda Master Sword in serious condition
- 5 First clip of Outkast's Andre 3000 in Jimi Hendrix biopic All Is By My Side emerges
Apple's Tim Cook: Business isn’t just about making profit
Thousands of young people forced to go without food after benefits wrongly stopped under 'draconian' new sanctions regime
Ukraine crisis: New navy chief 'defects' and surrenders Crimean HQ as Putin claims ultranationalists forced intervention
Ukraine crisis: Russia dismisses '3am ultimatum' as 'total nonsense'
If you're horrified by a flame-roasted dog, you should be shocked at a hog roast
Poor 'live like animals' says Boris's privately educated sister after going on 'poverty safari'
£1200 per month: Inspiring Interns: Our client is one of Europes leading mobi...
£12000 per annum: Inspiring Interns: Founded in 2008 by two Chinese tech entre...
£12000 - £18000 per annum: Inspiring Interns: Our client is a high-end niche t...
£22000 - £25000 per annum, Benefits: Subsidised gym membership, 25 days holiday...