'Sleeping' Plants May Hold Key to Crop Production Surge

Scottish scientists believe they can radically improve crop and plant output by researching how plants instinctively conserve enough energy to stay alive during the night.

Scottish scientists believe they can radically improve crop and plant output by researching how plants instinctively conserve enough energy to stay alive during the night.

It is hoped their research could pave the way for improved methods to optimize the production of plants in the future. During daylight hours plants build up starch from the sun which they store in their leaves. When darkness falls they use this starch as an energy resource to stay alive. Academics from the University of Aberdeen are conducting new research to understand how this process takes place.

Scientists have understood for centuries that plants have internal clocks and know that these clocks allow them to anticipate when it will become light and dark. But how plants know how much starch they have in storage and how long it needs to last to keep them alive before the sun comes up remains a mystery.

They are working collaboratively with six international partner institutions on the five-year study which is funded by a grant of €5.8million from the European Union.

Oliver Ebenhoeh from the university's Institute of Complex Systems and Mathematical Biology said that scientists have known for centuries that plants have an internal clock which allows them to know instinctively when night time will fall. "What we don't yet understand is the link between this clock and a plant's metabolism," he said.

"It is this connection that allows plants to know how much starch they have in storage when night time falls and to use this starch carefully to ensure they have enough energy to last over the hours of darkness."

The aim of the Scottish-based scientists is to develop a mathematical model to explain this precise and flexible regulation of energy storage and consumption and to understand the signals which are being transmitted between the plant's clock and its metabolism which enable this process.

Scientists hope this research could have major implications for improvements in how crops are cultivated in the future. 

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