Scientists have suggested that the way plants adjust to having less sunlight in winter could help shed light on the impact of shift work and jet lag on people.
University of Edinburgh researchers looking at the daily rhythms in plants have discovered a complex process that allows the plants' genes to respond to the times of dawn and dusk each day and the length of daylight in between.
This system enables the plant to reset its internal clock every day in response to seasonal changes in daylight, helping it to control the timing of crucial activities.
These findings help understand how other living things, including humans, respond when their daily rhythms are interrupted, perhaps by travel or unsociable working hours.
The researchers used experimental data and mathematical models to show how much the plants' rhythms accounted for sunrise and sunset, as well as day length.
"Light input is absolutely crucial to understanding how the rhythms of most organisms work in daily life. We found how the genes that drive the plant clock respond to the light/dark cycle," the Daily Mail quoted Andrew Millar, led author of the study, as saying.
Millar said it made evolutionary sense for plants, particularly in places where sunlight levels vary widely throughout the year, to have adapted a finely-tuned process helping them to distinguish between long and short days.
"In very broad terms, if you have a long day, you can stretch out your daytime activities to cover a longer duration of time and you have to compress the night time activity into the short night, and vice versa.
"Our results give us valuable information on how plants and people respond to changing lengths of day. It could give a new way to understand how to cope when our daily rhythms of light and dark are interrupted," he added.