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Kyle Butt, M.A.


ne of the first steps to

becoming a good stu-

dent in school is to learn

the basics: reading, writing, and

arithmetic. Students spend hours

trying to master the basics of arith-

metic. But it seems that students in

grade school are not the only math

masters. A new study indicates

that plants may be exceptional at

math as well. Allison Smith and

Martin Howard of the John Innes

Center in Norwich suggest that

plants perform basic arithmetic

in order to preserve the correct

amount of starch during the night

(Ledford, 2013). Heidi Ledford,

writing for

Nature News

, explains

that scientists once thought plants

broke down starch at night time at

a fairly constant rate. Experimental

results, however, have shown that

plants can vary their rate of starch

consumption based on the number

of hours of darkness they experi-

ence. Regardless of how many hours

plants sit in darkness, they can regu-

late their starch use so that virtually

no starch remains when the light

returns (2013).

While this is the first study to

suggest that plants do arithmetic,

researchers indicate that this process

could explain other biological

systems, such as animal hyberna-

tion and long migrations in which

food supplies need to be regulated

to ensure survival. More research

will be needed to verify Smith’s and

Howard’s conclusions, but Howard

states: “We are dealing with a fun-

damental biological process in cells

that’s doing a sophisticated arithme-

tic calculation” (Ledford).