Plants perform molecular maths

WANDERLUST

As if making food from light were not impressive enough, it may be time to add another advanced skill to the botanical repertoire: the ability to perform — at least at the molecular level — arithmetic division.

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 menu. 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…

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