Plants Can Do Arithmetic: Study

Leaves can calculate exactly how much starch a plant will need each night
By Ruth Brown,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 24, 2013 7:16 PM CDT
Updated Jun 29, 2013 7:50 AM CDT

(Newser) – How do plants survive without starving through the night when there's no sunlight to nourish them? Simple arithmetic. A study by UK scientists to be published in the journal eLife found that plants precisely calculate and adjust the amount of starch to store and consume overnight, to make sure it lasts until dawn, reports. "They're actually doing maths in a simple, chemical way—that's amazing," the lead researcher tells the BBC. "It astonished us as scientists to see that."

Once the sun goes down, mechanisms inside the leaf measure how much starch is stored, estimate the time until dawn, then divide it so about 95% of the starch is consumed by the time the sun comes up again. But one scientist not involved in the study had no sense of humor about the research. "This is not evidence for plant intelligence," he told the BBC. "It simply suggests that plants have a mechanism designed to automatically regulate how fast they burn carbohydrates at night. Plants don't do maths voluntarily and with a purpose in mind like we do."

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