What makes basil so good? In some cases, it’s AI.
Researchers behind AI-optimized basil used machine learning to determine the growing conditions that would maximize the concentration of the volatile compounds responsible for basil’s flavor.
The basil was grown in hydroponic units within modified shipping containers in Middleton, Massachusetts. Temperature, light, humidity, and other environmental factors inside the containers could be controlled automatically. The researchers tested the taste of the plants by looking for certain compounds using gas chromatography and mass spectrometry. And they fed the resulting data into machine-learning algorithms developed at MIT and a company called Cognizant.
The research showed, counterintuitively, that exposing plants to light 24 hours a day generated the best taste. The research group plans to study how the technology might improve the disease-fighting capabilities of plants as well as how different flora may respond to the effects of climate change.
“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,” said Caleb Harper, head of the MIT Media Lab’s OpenAg group.
“Our goal is to design open-source technology at the intersection of data acquisition, sensing, and machine learning, and apply it to agricultural research in a way that hasn't been done before,” he added.