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Plants Can Do Math, Tell Time To Survive Night: Startling New Research Has Implications For Human Health

By Staff Reporter | June 24, 2013 06:56 PM EDT

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New research has found that plants can do math and know what time it is, even after being picked.

Sunlight is important to plants. We've known for a long while that light sustains and warms plants, and that they convert sunlight to food. Light even helps plants track the seasons. Now, however, scientists have found that plants know what time of day it is.

This holds true for plants even after being uprooted.

A recent Rice University study made the discovery. Even post-harvest, heads of cabbage still react to the time of day, they found. Plants don't die immediately, and scientists used artificial light to stimulate the sun's movements.

They found that they could trick the plants into continuing a normal or abnormal daily cycle based on the light levels.

The research might impact human health and agriculture.

The findings imply that plants could be made more nutritious if they were stored differently. Because plants make antioxidants at certain times of day, plants could be harvested, then forced to keep making the antioxidants. However, the process might shorten shelf life.

And, incredibly, plants may also know math.

A separate, but related piece of research shows that plants have an awareness of time even in the absence of light.

Plants seem to use up food and energy at a regular place throughout the night, and change their starch deposits based on the light. When plants are conserving starch, their metabolism slows down. This ensures that they will stay alive until the morning sun comes up.

The method seems to be precise enough that scientists theorized plants must be doing math or some type of division to calculate the starch storage rate. Researchers found that the plants could calculate the size of food reserves versus the length of  the night and adjust for both. The plants always used up 95% of their reserves by morning.

Thus, plants intrinsically know how to make full use of their resources and avoid starvation or excess.

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