Creation: How plants avoid starvation

“Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.” -Matthew 6:28-29

yellow daylilies

A team of scientists at John Innes Centre in Norwich, UK, discovered that plants do complex arithmetic calculations to make sure they have enough food to get through the night until daylight, when they can once again feed themselves through photosynthesis.

Plants Do Sums to Get Through the Night,” Scientific Computing, June 24, 2013

New research shows that to prevent starvation at night, plants perform accurate arithmetic division. The calculation allows them to use up their starch reserves at a constant rate so that they run out almost precisely at dawn.

“This is the first concrete example in a fundamental biological process of such a sophisticated arithmetic calculation,” said mathematical modeller Prof. Martin Howard from the John Innes Centre.

Howard & SmithProfs. Martin Howard and Alison Smith. Courtesy of Norwich Bioscience Institutes

Plants feed themselves during the day by using energy from the sun to convert carbon dioxide into sugars and starch. Once the sun has set, they must depend on a store of starch to prevent starvation.

In research published in the open access journal eLife, scientists at the John Innes Centre show that plants make precise adjustments to their rate of starch consumption. These adjustments ensure that the starch store lasts until dawn even if the night comes unexpectedly early or the size of the starch store varies.

The John Innes Centre scientists show that to adjust their starch consumption so precisely they must be performing a mathematical calculation –- arithmetic division.

“The capacity to perform arithmetic calculation is vital for plant growth and productivity,” said metabolic biologist Professor Alison Smith. “Understanding how plants continue to grow in the dark could help unlock new ways to boost crop yield.”

During the night, mechanisms inside the leaf measure the size of the starch store and estimate the length of time until dawn. Information about time comes from an internal clock, similar to our own body clock. The size of the starch store is then divided by the length of time until dawn to set the correct rate of starch consumption, so that, by dawn, around 95% of starch is used up.

“The calculations are precise so that plants prevent starvation but also make the most efficient use of their food,” said Smith. “If the starch store is used too fast, plants will starve and stop growing during the night. If the store is used too slowly, some of it will be wasted.”

The scientists used mathematical modelling to investigate how such a division calculation can be carried out inside a plant. They proposed that information about the size of the starch store and the time until dawn is encoded in the concentrations of two kinds of molecules (called S for starch and T for time). If the S molecules stimulate starch consumption, 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.

H/t The Times of India

purple&dogwood2Pictures of flowers are of Eowyn’s garden after a summer rain, 2013.


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This is amazing. But then again, all of God’s Creation is amazing so why should we wonder?

This brings up other salient issues; are some plants better at math then others? Are junipers more prone to mathematical miscalculations than, say, peonies? Does this produce pride in plants or are they accepting of the less gifted? Do they use decimal or fractions? How about rounding?


Amazing how we always find ‘order’, no matter how far out we look, or how far in we see..


Yet another awesome example of Intelligent Design! :0)

Auntie Lulu
Auntie Lulu

Fabulous garden! The more we learn of God’s mysteries, the more there is to glory in. It is some how comforting to know that there is a precision to be found in all around us.


Fascinating stuff!


God’s creation declares His glory! Thanks Dr. Eowyn.

Alice Wolf
Alice Wolf

God’s ever increasing Kingdom.


Thank you Dr. Eowyn for this most incredible post. So even the plants can perform arithmetic calculations so that they will survive, efficiently using the timing of the day to thrive and save. Wow, this is absolutely wonderful!!! Your flowers are gorgeous! Our Lord is a mighty Artist!


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