Research finds plants can do math and know what time it is

first_imgLight is everything to a plant. We’ve known for a long time that light is their form of sustenance and warmth, and even that it helps them track through the seasons. It makes sense that they would coordinate their annual cycles in reference to sun — but can a plant also have an awareness of the time of day? It’s becoming increasingly clear that not only do plants know and care what time it is, but that we can exploit that tendency to make them better for us — even after they’ve been ripped from the soil.One recent study from Rice University made the rather startling discovery that post-harvest plant life like a head of cabbage can still react to the time of day. Plants don’t die right after harvest, and by using artificial light to simulate the sun’s movements we can trick them into continuing a normal daily cycle — or even an abnormal one.Antioxidants are one healthful metabolic product of plant biology, and research has shown that they increase production of these potentially cancer-fighting molecules at certain times of the day. For the plant, it’s a gambit to make themselves less tasty to hungry insects. For human beings, it’s a chance to make a healthy meal even healthier.A possible consequence of this work is that plants could be made more nutritious simply by changing how we store them. Though keeping them in a perpetual antioxidant production state will probably have some sort of side-effect, perhaps as tame as shortening shelf life, research should allow a measured approach that could improve the nutrition of existing species — no genetic modification required.Watch the awesome video below, to see the utility of this scheduling for the plant itself.Another piece of research, this time from the John Innes Centre, shows that plants maintain an awareness of time even after the sun goes down. How do we know this? Because when a plant hunkers down to survive through the sun-drought of the night, it uses up its stores of food and energy at a very regular pace. Suddenly subject them to the night, and they adjust their usage of starch deposits accordingly. A smaller store of starch leads them to a slower rate of metabolism, ensuring that they make it through to dawn without starving.Their use is so reliable and mathematically measured that the researchers realized they must be doing some basic sort of arithmetic division. By tracking their use of starch reserves in response to odd night-time schedules, they were able to prove that the plants can estimate the length of a night, the size of their food reserves, and enact the appropriate rationing system with astonishing accuracy. No matter what, they plant will aim to use up 95% of its starch by morning.They always make full, efficient use of the resources available to them without ever getting so greedy that they starve themselves out later in the night. It seems we could stand to learn a thing or two from cabbage.last_img

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