Text by Lauri Laanisto
Ok, this study is basically about how phone and internet waves (i.e. electromagnetic pollution) affect the volatiles and essential oils in basil (and there are lots of them in basil). So, apparently these waves either lower the amount of some compounds and raise the others. It´s a stress! But, like the authors conclude that although: “However, the composition of the studied plant was significantly altered, and it remains to be investigated whether such changes alter culinary or health properties of the essential oil.”
Thus, so far we do not yet know whether it is ok to answer the phone or check mail while tending the herb garden or not… It´s a pretty avant garde(n) conundrum.
The study was conducted in Romania and authored by a former post-doc in Ülo Niinemets´s lab, Lucian Copolovici. And that is how Ülo and EcolChange got involved.
Citation: Lung, I., Soran, M. L., Opriş, O., Truşcă, M. R. C., Niinemets, Ü., & Copolovici, L. (2016). Induction of stress volatiles and changes in essential oil content and composition upon microwave exposure in the aromatic plant Ocimum basilicum. Science of The Total Environment, 569, 489-495. (link to full text)
Exposure to sustained low intensity microwaves can constitute a stress for the plants, but its effects on plant secondary chemistry are poorly known. We studied the influence of GSM and WLAN-frequency microwaves on emissions of volatile organic compounds and content of essential oil in the aromatic plant Ocimum basilicum L. hypothesizing that microwave exposure leads to enhanced emissions of stress volatiles and overall greater investment in secondary compounds. Compared to the control plants, microwave irradiation led to decreased emissions of β-pinene, α-phellandrene, bornyl acetate, β-myrcene, α-caryophyllene and benzaldehyde, but increased emissions of eucalyptol, estragole, caryophyllene oxide, and α-bergamotene. The highest increase in emission, 21 times greater compared to control, was observed for caryophyllene oxide. The irradiation resulted in increases in the essential oil content, except for the content of phytol which decreased by 41% in the case of GSM-frequency, and 82% in the case of WLAN-frequency microwave irradiation. The strongest increase in response to WLAN irradiation, > 17 times greater, was observed for hexadecane and octane contents. Comparisons of volatile compositions by multivariate analyses demonstrated a clear separation of different irradiance treatments, and according to the changes in the volatile emissions, the WLAN-frequency irradiation represented a more severe stress than the GSM-frequency irradiation. Overall, these results demonstrating important modifications in the emission rates, essential oil content and composition indicate that microwave irradiation influences the quality of herbage of this economically important spice plant.