Researchers Develop Genetically Modified Plant That Aids Indoor Air Purification

Mark Stone/University of Washington

While we may think that the air in our houses is quite clean, that is actually not the case – on occasion, some hazardous compounds do sneak in and they’re too small to be trapped even by air filters.

Benzene, which can be found in gasoline, or chloroform, found in chlorinated water can still find places in our homes.

In order to combat these compounds, researchers at the University of Washington have managed to genetically modify a house plant: the photos ivy (more commonly known as devil’s ivy). They managed to get the plant to remove the compounds by basically ‘eating’ them in order to support its own growth.

The plant has a 2E1 protein that can transform the compounds into nutritious molecules.

This protein is present in humans as well, just that in our bodies, is located in our livers and gets turned on when we drink alcohol, so it’s not where we’d need it to help us process the pollutants in the air.

The team behind the genetically modified plants. From left to right: Ryan Routsong, Long Zhang, Stuart Strand.
Credit: Mark Stone/University of Washington

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,” Stuart Strand, Research Professor for the US Civil and Environmental Engineering Department said “Now we’ve engineered houseplants to remove these pollutants for us.

The team of researchers is not stopping here though: they are currently working on a way to add another protein into the plant that can break down formaldehyde, which can be found in some wood products like cabinets and even tobacco smoke.

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