June 28, 2013 – Scientists at Britain's John Innes Centre have discovered that plants are actually able of doing complicated math calculations to make sure they have enough nutrients to survive the dark, sunless night.
Plants use energy from the sun to convert carbon dioxide into sugar and starch and plants have to keep reserves of those sugars and starches to make sure that they can survive the night.
The scientists found that plants are so precise in their ability to exactly figure out how much food they need to save for night time that they must be doing division! They found that chemicals inside the leaf measure how much stored starch is available at nighttime, using the plant's internal clock that is similar to our internal body clock.
Two kinds of molecules – "S" for starch and "T" for time– are in charge of this process. The T molecules stop the S molecules from being broken town too early, meaning that how fast the S molecules are consumed depends on how many T molecules there are. In other words, the plant is doing a mathematical equation: S divided by T.
This is the first example of sophisticated math performed in a plant. It isn't too far fetched to think that animals like birds have a similar process to control how fast their body burns up their stored fat during migration when there is not a lot of food available. But, this doesn't mean that plants will be taking over the world any time soon.
"This is not evidence of plant intelligence. It simply suggests that plants have a mechanism designed to automatically regulate how fast they burn carbohydrates at night. Plants don't do math voluntarily and with a purpose in mind like we do," explained Dr. Richard Buggs of Queen Mary, University of London.