Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
The popular laboratory plant Arabidopsis thaliana
Can plants do math?
This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science, saying maybe!
See, during the day, plants use sunlight to convert carbon dioxide into sugars and starches. At night, they use these to maintain life and growth. But how do they pace their consumption so they don't run out before dawn?
Plant biologists in the U.K. have developed a model of the process. It's like a math problem: amount of stored starch divided by the number of hours of darkness equals consumption rate.
The model seems to match what they're finding in the lab. When they make the night artificially shorter or longer? Each change triggers a different “calculation.” Short night ahead? Plants use starch more rapidly. Long night ahead? Use it more slowly.
The plants aren’t really doing division of course . . . the key is likely a biological clock, which helps them estimate the time til dawn. The biologists are calling it "molecular math."
So that's what my daughter was doing last night when she fell asleep on her algebra book. Molecular math! Sure!
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