Plants use sugars to tell the time of day, study finds

Oct 23, 2013

Plants use sugars to tell the time of day, according to research published in Nature today.

Plants, like animals, have a 24 hour 'body-clock' known as the circadian rhythm. This biological timer gives plants an innate ability to measure time, even when there is no light - they don't simply respond to sunrise, for example, they know it is coming and adjust their biology accordingly. This ability to keep time provides an important competitive advantage and is vital in biological processes such as flowering, fragrance emission and leaf movement.

BBSRC-funded scientists from the University of Cambridge Department of Plant Sciences are studying how plants are able to set and maintain this . They have found that the sugars produced by plants are key to timekeeping.

Plants produce sugar via photosynthesis; it is their way of converting the sun's energy into a usable chemical form needed for growth and function.

This new research has shown that these sugars also play a role in . Researchers studied the effects of these sugars by monitoring seedlings in CO2-free air, to inhibit photosynthesis, and by growing genetically altered plants and monitoring their biology. The production of sugars was found to regulate key genes responsible for the 24 hour rhythm.

Dr Alex Webb, lead researcher at the University of Cambridge, explains: "Our research shows that sugar levels within a plant play a vital role in synchronizing circadian rhythms with its surrounding environment. Inhibiting photosynthesis, for example, slowed the plants internal clock by between 2 and 3 hours."

The research shows that has a profound effect on setting and maintaining robust circadian rhythms in Arabidopsis plants, demonstrating a critical role for metabolism in regulation of the .

Dr Mike Haydon, who performed much of the research and is now at the University of York, added: "The accumulation of sugar within the plant provides a kind of feedback for the in – a bit like resetting a stopwatch. We think this might be a way of telling the plant that energy in the form of sugars is available to perform important metabolic tasks. This mirrors research that has previously shown that feeding times can influence the phase of peripheral clocks in animals."

Explore further: Researchers discover new strategy germs use to invade cells

More information: Photosynthetic entrainment of the Arabidopsis thaliana circadian clock, DOI: 10.1038/nature12603

Related Stories

Plants let chloroplasts know the time

Mar 14, 2013

(Phys.org) —Plant cells communicate information about the time of day to their chloroplasts, the part of their cells that underpins all agricultural productivity on Earth, researchers at the University ...

Circadian clock controls plant growth hormone

Aug 13, 2007

The plant growth hormone auxin is controlled by circadian rhythms within the plant, UC Davis researchers have found. The discovery explains how plants can time their growth to take advantage of resources such ...

Recommended for you

Researchers discover new strategy germs use to invade cells

4 hours ago

The hospital germ Pseudomonas aeruginosa wraps itself into the membrane of human cells: A team led by Dr. Thorsten Eierhoff and Junior Professor Dr. Winfried Römer from the Institute of Biology II, members of the Cluster ...

Progress in the fight against harmful fungi

4 hours ago

A group of researchers at the Max F. Perutz Laboratories has created one of the three world's largest gene libraries for the Candida glabrata yeast, which is harmful to humans. Molecular analysis of the Candida ...

How steroid hormones enable plants to grow

Aug 19, 2014

Plants can adapt extremely quickly to changes in their environment. Hormones, chemical messengers that are activated in direct response to light and temperature stimuli help them achieve this. Plant steroid ...

Surviving the attack of killer microbes

Aug 19, 2014

The ability to find food and avoid predation dictates whether most organisms live to spread their genes to the next generation or die trying. But for some species of microbe, a unique virus changes the rules ...

Histones and the mystery of cell proliferation

Aug 19, 2014

Before cells divide, they create so much genetic material that it must be wound onto spools before the two new cells can split apart. These spools are actually proteins called histones, and they must multiply ...

User comments : 0