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Researchers Find Trick to Growing Tastier Basil

24-hour light is the key, say MIT researchers
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 8, 2019 10:00 AM CDT
For tastier basil, constant light helps.   (Getty/karzhanez)

(Newser) – Researchers at MIT say they've figured out how to grow the tastiest basil: Expose the plant to light 24 hours a day. The nugget comes out of a project in which scientists grew the herb in a shipping container, a controlled environment that allowed them to precisely monitor every aspect of the experiment, reports Quartz. And this isn't franken-basil: No genetic engineering was involved, notes the Science Times. But the researchers did use machine-learning algorithms to crunch data for their "climate recipe," which they detail in the journal Plos One. The end result didn't involve merely a subjective taste test—the scientists found that basil exposed to constant light ended up with more molecules associated with flavor.

"Initially, basil was assumed to need a period of darkness in order to produce an ideal outcome, but that assumption turned out to be wrong," they write. "The highest density of flavor molecules was produced by subjecting the plants to all-day light." The larger point of the experiment is to figure out such "cyber agriculture" methods and then make them publicly available. "We're really interested in building networked tools that can take a plant's experience, its phenotype, the set of stresses it encounters, and its genetics, and digitize that to allow us to understand the plant-environment interaction," says a researcher with MIT's Open Agriculture Initiative. The team now plans to zero in on how to grow basil with a higher level of compounds known to fight diseases such as diabetes, per a release. (Read more MIT stories.)

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