Do Plants Sleep? | Popular Science
Posted: March 16, 2014 Filed under: Media coverage, Uncategorized
I’ve been thinking a lot about sleep lately, mostly because I wrote a story on the topic for the March issue of Popular Science. Sleep, of course, is a key part of our lives as humans. We do it every night (or at least we should). We also see other animals sleep, from our pet dogs snoozing at our feet to the wild birds roosting in the trees outside our windows. But what about the life forms that frequent Our Modern Plagues? Do microbes rest? Do insects regularly turn in at some point each day? What about plants, from crops to invasive species?
And if all these organisms do sleep, or exhibit some parallel behavior, are scientists manipulating the trait to our benefit?
To explore these questions, I will post a three-part series over the next several weeks. First up: plants.
So, do plants sleep? I posed the question to several plant experts and the short answer is no, at least not in the literal sense. Plants don’t have central nervous systems that seem to be key in what we think of as sleep in humans. But plants do havecircadian rhythms tuned to Earth’s 24-hour light-dark cycle, which they maintain even if they’re kept in light fulltime, just as we do. And that is where things get really interesting.
For us, the circadian cycle determines when we should sleep and when we should wake up: sunlight enters our eyes each morning, triggering cells in the brain that control levels of the hormone melatonin, which, in part, controls drowsiness. The more melatonin, the sleepier we are—levels drop in the daytime and rise at night. And while our main sleep clock resides in the brain, we also have clock genes in nearly all of the cell types throughout the body, and vital physiological processes occur as we sleep.
Plants also go through physiological changes during each stage of the day, says Janet Braam, a plant biologist at Rice University. “There are likely diverse and very important advantages of circadian clock function to plants,” she told me by email. For example, “we know that plants use the clock to be able to monitor day length and thus can prepare for seasonal changes (like winter) before the weather actually changes.”
Indeed, plant behavior is tightly controlled by the sun. During the day, plants soak up sunlight during photosynthesis, the process they use to get energy. But when the sun goes down, plants’ opportunity to eat disappears and other physiological processes take over, including energy metabolism and growth.
Plants can anticipate the dawn each day and follow the sun to maximize their photosynthesis potential. The sunflower in the time-lapse below, for example, sways back and forth as the sun rises and falls, and the videos at this great website sLowlifeshow corn seedlings bowing towards a light bulb and sunflower seedlings that appear to dance as they reach for sunlight.
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via Do Plants Sleep? | Popular Science.