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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2001 Sep 25;98(20):11801-5.

Spatiotemporal variation of metabolism in a plant circadian rhythm: the biological clock as an assembly of coupled individual oscillators.

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Institute of Botany, Darmstadt University of Technology, Schnittspahnstrasse 3-5, D-64287 Darmstadt, Germany.


The complex dynamic properties of biological timing in organisms remain a central enigma in biology despite the increasingly precise genetic characterization of oscillating units and their components. Although attempts to obtain the time constants from oscillations of gene activity and biochemical units have led to substantial progress, we are still far from a full molecular understanding of endogenous rhythmicity and the physiological manifestations of biological clocks. Applications of nonlinear dynamics have revolutionized thinking in physics and in biomedical and life sciences research, and spatiotemporal considerations are now advancing our understanding of development and rhythmicity. Here we show that the well known circadian rhythm of a metabolic cycle in a higher plant, namely the crassulacean acid metabolism mode of photosynthesis, is expressed as dynamic patterns of independently initiated variations in photosynthetic efficiency (phi(PSII)) over a single leaf. Noninvasive highly sensitive chlorophyll fluorescence imaging reveals randomly initiated patches of varying phi(PSII) that are propagated within minutes to hours in wave fronts, forming dynamically expanding and contracting clusters and clearly dephased regions of phi(PSII). Thus, this biological clock is a spatiotemporal product of many weakly coupled individual oscillators, defined by the metabolic constraints of crassulacean acid metabolism. The oscillators operate independently in space and time as a consequence of the dynamics of metabolic pools and limitations of CO(2) diffusion between tightly packed cells.

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