Plants Do Math to Survive the Night

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Plants use a chemical calculator to divide their amount of stored energy by the length of the night and thereby solve the problem of how to portion out their energy reserves overnight.


Biologists from the John Innes Centre in England discovered that plants have a biological process which divides their amount of stored energy by the length of the night. This solves the problem of how to portion out energy reserves during the night so that the plant can keep growing, yet not risk burning off all its stored energy.

While the sun shines, plants perform photosynthesis. In this process, the plants convert sunlight, water and carbon dioxide into stored energy in the form of long chains of sugar, called starch. At night, the plants burn this stored starch to fuel continued growth.

“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.”

Written By: Tim Wall
continue to source article at news.discovery.com

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  1. Plants do not manipulate numbers on some sort of inbuilt computer, so I think it is silly to say that they do mathematics. It is more accurate to say that their metabolism can be described mathematically – metabolism is proportional to food reserves and inversely proportional to night length. It is rather like claiming that planets do mathematics in order to calculate what path to take round the Sun!

  2. Let’s presume plants did not do any sort of calculation. They would use a certain percentage of their reserve each hour. What they seem to be doing is holding back at the beginning of the night, and going for broke near the end of the night (trusting day will soon come).

    You could compute this in an analog way by having a hormone increase the longer it was dark. This hormone would stimulate metabolism.

    Alternatively the hormone levels could decrease the longer it were dark. It could suppress metabolism.

    • In reply to #2 by Roedy:

      Let’s presume plants did not do any sort of calculation. They would use a certain percentage of their reserve each hour. What they seem to be doing is holding back at the beginning of the night, and going for broke near the end of the night (trusting day will soon come).

      You could compute this in…

      I don’t think that’s what they said was happening. In the article I read it said the plants released the energy evenly over the period.

      It’s interesting because the calculation has two factors to work out: the change in the night length and the reduced amount of resources available. The proportion can only really be worked out with some reference to the total time cycle parameters involved.

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