This houseplant rids the air of some molecules that even HEPA air filters can not remove. Both benzene and chloroform exposure have been known to be carcinogenic to vulnerable population such as children. The altered plants produce a protein called 2E1 that transforms chloroform and benzene into molecules the plants can use for growth. Their study presented the scientists in the journal "Environmental Science and Technology".
Houseplants have always been used to reduce indoor air pollution levels, but research shows they do not completely remove some of the toxic air pollutants present inside houses. In our bodies, P450 2E1 (2E1 for short) turns benzene into phenol, a chemical. "Plants use carbon dioxide and chloride ions to make their food, and they use phenol to help make components of their cell walls". But there's a catch - this process occurs in the liver and is only activated when we drink alcohol.
Unfortunately, the protein is located in our liver and not available to process air pollution.
Prof. Strand holds a genetically modified pothos ivy that can remove pollutants from household air. "And 2E1 can be beneficial for the plant, too".
THURSDAY, Dec. 20, 2018 (HealthDay News) - A common houseplant to help keep your home's air cleaner and safer?
In temperate climates, pothos ivy doesn't flower.
The plant has just been approved for sale in Canada, however, with New Zealand's strict laws on genetically modified plants we probably won't see it here anytime soon.
The entire process took more than two years.
The researchers said they're now adding another protein to pothos ivy that can break down formaldehyde, a gas found in many wood products and tobacco smoke.
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The team behind the modified houseplants. Long Zhang, Ryan Routsong, and Stuart E. Strand.
The team introduced rabbit CYP2E1 to the ivy's genome and injected benzene or chloroform gas into closed vials that contained growing plants.
The concentration of each pollutant in each tube was tracked over the next 11 days. However, in the tubes with the modified plants, chloroform concentrations fell by 82% after three days. By the sixth day, it was nearly completely undetectable.
The researchers restrict that in the experiments used concentrations of pollutants were, for technical reasons, approximately a Million Times higher than in normal room air.
In the home, the houseplant would need to be inside an enclosure. "If you have a Plant in a corner of the room, it also has a certain effect", says beach. "But without air flow, it will take a long time for a molecule on the other end of the house to reach the plant", Strand noted.
The team is now working to increase the plants' capabilities by adding a protein that can break down another hazardous molecule found in home air: formaldehyde, which is present in some wood products, such as laminate flooring and cabinets, and tobacco smoke.
"These are all stable compounds, so it's really hard to get rid of them", Strand says. Without the proteins that break down these molecules, one would have to take much more elaborate measures.
Amazon Catalyst at UW, the National Science Foundation, and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences funded the study.