x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Plants are smart, too

Nature keeps amazing us, most recently with the news that plants know how to manage their nutrients with mathematical precision.

Humans are obsessed with measuring food security: governments make laws to manage food consumption and protect food resources; individuals manage their consumption by keeping track of the food they eat so they won't run out before their next visit to the grocery store.

But it turns out that these traits are not unique to homo sapiens. Some members of the kingdom Plantae have also found ways to manage consumption. And they don't even have neurons.

New research by scientists at Britain's John Innes Centre finds that some plants have the ability to mathematically measure their intake of starch during the day to make sure they have enough food at night. Based on these calculations plants can even make precise adjustments to their starch consumption, even accounting for days when the darkness comes unexpectedly early.

Researchers have known for decades that plants have a biological clock that allows them to respond to changes in time and environment. They are sensitive to light, affected by certain vibrations, and act in response to cues from other plants.

But the ability of plants to modify their food intake using maths adds a fascinating new dimension to our understanding of plant life. It also makes those of us already bad at maths feel even more pea-brained.