Arabidopsis plants store part of the carbon fixed by photosynthesis as starch to sustain growth at night. Two competing hypotheses have been proposed to explain this diel starch turnover based on either the measurement of starch abundance with respect to circadian time, or the sensing of sugars to feedback to the circadian oscillator to dynamically adjust the timing of starch turnover. We report a phase oscillator model that permitted derivation of the ideal responses of the circadian regulation of starch breakdown to maintain sucrose homeostasis. Testing the model predictions using a sugar-unresponsive mutant of Arabidopsis demonstrated that the dynamics of starch turnover arise from the circadian clock measuring and responding to the rate of change of cellular sucrose. Our theory and experiments suggest that starch turnover is controlled by the circadian clock acting as a dynamic homeostat responding to sucrose signals to maintain carbon homeostasis.
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