Mathematical models show that the amount of starch consumed overnight is calculated by division in a process involving leaf chemicals, a John Innes Centre team reports in e-Life journal.
The scientists studied the plant Arabidopsis, which is regarded as a model plant for experiments.
The researchers proposed that the process is mediated by the concentrations of two kinds of molecules called “S” for starch and “T” for time.
If the S molecules stimulate starch breakdown, while the T molecules prevent this from happening, then the rate of starch consumption is set by the ratio of S molecules to T molecules. In other words, S divided by T.
“This is the first concrete example in biology of such a sophisticated arithmetic calculation,” said mathematical modeller Prof Martin Howard, of the John Innes Centre.