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Scientists shed light on plant survival

University scientists are helping to investigate how plants save enough energy to stay alive at night.

Researchers hope their work will have implications for crop cultivation.

Energy models

Scientists will study a weed called thale cress to develop a mathematical model to explain the precise yet flexible regulation of the plants’ energy store and use.

This will help researchers better understand any signals transmitted between the plant’s metabolism and internal clock.

Understanding this complex process may one day enable scientists to develop plants for use as crops or biofuels.

A €5.8 million grant from the European Union will fund the five-year study, a collaboration of six international institutions led by Edinburgh.

Plant pattern

Daylight hours provide plants with time to build up a starch store in their leaves.

When darkness falls this store acts as a sugar supply to keep the plant alive overnight.

It has been known for centuries that plants have internal clocks which allow them to anticipate when it will be light and dark.

Scientists already understand how thale cress controls the timing of its flowering.

However, it remains a mystery how plants are able to know exactly how much starch they have in storage and how long it needs to keep them going before the sun rises.

Partner institutions

Also involved in the study are the University of Aberdeen, Biomathematics and Statistics Scotland, the John Innes Centre, Norwich; the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Plant Physiology, Potsdam; the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich and the Centre de Recerca en AgriGenòmica, Barcelona.