Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Plants Can Do Math, Too; Ration Energy at Night

Molecular Biology
Plant Intelligence: “We're dealing with a fundamental biological process in cells that’s doing a sophisticated arithmetic calculation,” says Martin Howard of the John Innes Centre in Norwich, UK.
“No one has really thought about doing it this way before.”
Photo Credit: Nigel Cattlin; Getty Images 
Source: Nature
An article, by Hedi Ledford, in Nature News says that plants can not only turn light into food energy through the process of photosynthesis—an amazing enough feat—but they can also do molecular math to ration their energy.

Ledford writes:
Computer-generated models published in the journal eLife illustrate how plants might use molecular mathematics to regulate the rate at which they devour starch reserves to provide energy throughout the night, when energy from the Sun is off the menu1. If so, the authors say, it would be the first example of arithmetic division in biology.

But it may not be the only one: many animals go through periods of fasting — during hibernations or migrations, for example — and must carefully ration internal energy stores in order to survive. Understanding how arithmetic division could occur at the molecular level might also be useful for the young field of synthetic biology, in which genetic engineers seek standardized methods of tinkering with molecular pathways to create new biological devices.
“This is a new framework for understanding the control of metabolic processes,” says Rodrigo Gutiérrez, a plant-systems biologist at the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile in Santiago, who was not involved in the work. “I can immediately think of applying it to other problems.”
Plants make the starch reserves they produce during the day last almost precisely until dawn. Researchers once thought that plants break down starch at a fixed rate during the night. But then they observed that the diminutive weed Arabidopsis thaliana, a plant favoured for laboratory work, could recalculate that rate on the fly when subjected to an unusually early or late night2
Nature is both more complicated and interesting than we initially thought; and the processes that drive many plants deserve greater attention. As odd as it might sound to some, we might learn something from the plant world, namely, how to make better use of our resources and how to conserve energy for use when it is necessary.

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You can read the rest of the article at [Nature]

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