If you grow basil in your garden as a staple for summer salads and pasta dishes, you may be disappointed come harvest time if your herb has become the victim downy mildew. The disease was discovered in Florida in 2007 and since then, has spread to more than 40 more states. Countries in South America, Europe, Africa and the Middle East have also reported downy mildew on basil, according to NewsWise.com.
Researchers at the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences are looking for a way to manage the pathogen without the farmer having to use much, if any, pesticide or herbicide sprays. The team’s recent experiments have led to the use of red lights as a possible solution, NewsWise.com reports.
First, plant pathology associate professor Shouan Zhang inoculated basil plants with the downy mildew pathogen, according to NewsWise.com. The basil was kept in a greenhouse. Some of the plants were kept in the dark for 12 hours per day. The other basil plants were exposed to red lights. The plants that were left in the dark showed signs of the downy mildew in six days; the basil that was placed under the red lights showed no symptoms. The team concluded that the red lights slowed the mildew’s growth. The team conducted the experiment again, with nearly the same results. The second experiment showed signs of mildew in five days for the plants left in the dark and little to no signs in the basil exposed to the red lights, NewsWise.com reports.
As of now, the reason why the red lights suppress the mildew is not yet known. However, the team is excited about what their findings might mean for farmers.
“This study is important as growers could manage downy mildew [which appears when basil leaves start to yellow], using this technology, with no or less chemicals,” Jaimin Patel, a postdoctoral research associate who works with Zhang at the UF/IFAS Tropical Research and Education Center in Homestead, Florida, told NewsWise.com. “Field and greenhouse production of fresh basil has increased significantly in recent years because of demand and its high dollar value,” Patel added. “Although we do not have specific data on the loss of basil production due to downy mildew, we know that it has been causing severe damage to the industry. Many growers, particularly in South Florida, have given up their basil production due to downy mildew.”
If the red light process proves effective and the reason behind its effectiveness is discovered, this could be great news to growers of basil.