Genetically Modified Houseplant Cleans Toxins From Air

first_img Study: Indoor Air Quality Levels ‘On Par With’ Polluted Major CitySwiss Plant Sucks CO2 Out out of Air to Repackage, Sell Stay on target There is a growing trend (pun intended) in houseplants, which offer a splash of color while helping with indoor air purification.Researchers at the University of Washington have taken urban jungles to the next level, though, by developing a common houseplant to remove toxic compounds from the air.Too small to be trapped by traditional filters, chloroform and benzene can build up in our homes when we shower, boil water, or store cars or lawn mowers in attached garages.“People haven’t really been talking about these hazardous organic compounds in homes, and I think that’s because we couldn’t do anything about them,” according to senior study author Stuart Strand, a research professor in the UW civil and environmental engineering department. “Now we’ve engineered houseplants to remove these pollutants for us.”His genetically modified Epipremnum aureum (also known as pothos ivy or devil’s ivy) essentially “eats” these toxins to support its own growth.Long Zhang puts a pothos ivy plant into a glass tube to test its ability to break down benzene or chloroform (via Mark Stone/University of Washington)Inspired by the human body, Strand & Co. opted to use the protein cytochrome P450 2E1, which, located in our livers, is turned on when we drink alcohol; it turns benzene into phenol and chloroform into carbon dioxide and chloride ions.“We decided we should have this reaction occur outside of the body in a plant, an example of the ‘green liver’ concept,” Strand said. “And 2E1 can be beneficial for the plant, too.“Plants use carbon dioxide and chloride ions to make their food,” he explained. “And they use phenol to help make components of their cell walls.”The team introduced a synthetic gene into photos ivy, allowing each cell to express the 2E1 protein. They then tested how well the doctored plants remove pollutants from air, compared to their unaltered counterparts.Spoiler alert: The experiment was a great success.After just three days, the concentration of chloroform in modified plants dropped 82 percent, and was almost undetectable by day six. Benzene also decreased, albeit more slowly, falling 75 percent in eight days.There was no change in concentration levels among the untouched pothos ivy.For plants in the home to be able to effectively remove hazardous molecules from the air, they would also need to be inside an enclosure with something to move air past their leaves, like a fan (via Mark Stone/University of Washington)These numbers should be taken with a grain of salt, considering the researchers used higher pollutant concentrations than are typically found in homes. Experts, however, believe that IRL levels would drop similarly, if not faster, over the same time frame.A fan—or something to help move air past the leaves—could also help.“If you had a plant growing in the corner of a room, it will have some effect on that room,” Strand said. “But without air flow, it will take a long time for a molecule on the other end of the house to reach the plant.”Moving forward, researchers are working to increase pothos ivy’s capabilities by adding a protein that breaks down another hazardous molecule: formaldehyde.Their findings were published last week in the journal Environmental Science & Technology.More on Plant Hormone Could Help Grow Potatoes in SpaceTrying to Get Pregnant? Stop Smoking PotThis ‘Cube’ Lets You Experience the Earth’s Most Extreme Conditionslast_img

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