We have known for a long time that certain houseplants can act as natural air cleaners and help to remove hazardous chemicals that are present in the home. Now scientists at the University of Washington have taken this one step further and genetically modified a pothos plant to make this effect even more efficient. These modified plants can now indicate the presence of unwelcome chemicals in the air by changing the color of their leaves. This article by Bailey King which I found on the Phillyvoice website has all the details.
Whether you’re already using houseplants to clean the air in your home, or if you call upon electronic air purifiers, lend us your ear: Researchers at the University of Washington have genetically modified a common houseplant — pothos ivy — to remove chloroform and benzene from the air around it.
Apparently, certain hazardous compounds are too small to be trapped in standard purifying filters. Molecules like chloroform, which is present in small amounts in chlorinated water, or benzene, which is a component of gasoline, build up in our homes when we shower or boil water, or when we store cars or lawn mowers in attached garages.
Why does that matter? Because exposure of benzene and chloroform have been linked to cancer, Science Daily reports.
Published in Environmental Science and Technology, researchers used genetic science to create a modified plant that produces a protein, called 2E1, that transforms these harmful compounds into molecules that the plants can then use to support their own growth. Further, the protein is able to break down benzene and chloroform into harmless byproducts, much like the liver does in the human body.
As an aside, 2E1 is actually present in all mammals, including humans.
“We decided we should have this reaction occur outside of the body in a plant, an example of the ‘green liver’ concept,” senior author Stuart Strand, who is a research professor in the University of Washington’s civil and environmental engineering department said.
The researchers made a synthetic version of the gene that serves as instructions for making the rabbit form of 2E1. Then they introduced it into pothos ivy so that each cell in the plant expressed the protein. “Without proteins to break down these molecules, we’d have to use high-energy processes to do it. It’s so much simpler and more sustainable to put these proteins all together in a houseplant,” Strand explains.
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