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Plants Do Math To Figure Out Their Nightly Food Ration, Says Study

By Alexandra Ward   |   Tuesday, 25 Jun 2013 10:19 AM

A new study has discovered that plants are able to perform math equations to set aside just enough starch to keep them from starving at night.

Biologists from the John Innes Centre in England found that plants have a chemical process that calculates their metabolism to make sure they have enough starch to last them during the non-daylight hours.

"This is the first concrete example in a fundamental biological process of such a sophisticated arithmetic calculation," John Innes Centre Professor Martin Howard told Phys.org.

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So how does it work? Once the sun goes down, a plant mechanism inside the leaf measures how much starch is stored, estimates the time until dawn, then divides it so about 95 percent of the starch is consumed by the time the sun comes up again.

"The calculations are precise so that plants prevent starvation but also make the most efficient use of their food," study co-author Alison Smith said in press release. "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."

To test out the plants' math skills, the John Innes team grew plants according to a 12-hour daylight/darkness schedule. Then, they randomly switched to darkness after just eight hours, forcing the plants to recalculate their metabolisms. In the morning, the plants were still alive and had just a small amount of starch left over.

The new revelation brought about amusing reactions on Twitter.

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