We often mention the ability of indoor plants to purify the air in our homes. While this has not yet been proven, US researchers have indeed genetically modified a plant to give it that exact capacity!
If air pollution makes you fear the worst in terms of air quality, you should know that indoor air is often more polluted than outside. Indeed, many substances are concentrated inside our homes, from among others cleaning products, paint and various aerosols, or smoking, heating oil and scented candles.
Researchers at the University of Washington on December 19, 2018 revealed in a publication in the journal Environmental Science and Technology their creation of a plant capable of purifying indoor air. They used a very common house plant with a particularity: it has been modified genetically using a gene found in rabbits.
The main author of the Stuart Strand study recalls that plants are relatively inefficient in the purification of air. Depollution is more often obtained by microbial interactions with bacteria present in the earth.
In order to make their plant act as bio-filter, the researchers used a gene present in rabbit. Its mission is to encode the cytochrome P450 2e1 enzyme. Present in mammals in general, this enzyme degrades toxic compounds located in the liver, among others benzene and chloroform.
The gene in question was then transferred to the genome of an Epipremnum aureum, a plant better known as Devil’s Ivy. However, this plant has several advantages, because it does not need much maintenance or even watering. In addition, scientists say they have added a fluorescence gene to the plant to give it a more attractive look.
Researchers have of course performed tests to check the capabilities of the plant. Modified ivy and normal ivy specimens were placed in test tubes and exposed to pollutants for more than one week. At the end of the experiment, the GMO ivy tubes showed a 90% drop in the presence of benzene, compared to 10% for the normal plant. These observations are nonetheless the result of a laboratory experiment, and the researchers admit to the plants limitations. “The clean-up is only really effective if the plants are placed in an enclosed area with a system to circulate the air on the leaves, like a fan,” said Stuart Strand.
Finally, while research is still ongoing to find a way to combine other genes for more performance, the best way to clean up the interior is still to open the windows.