In case you needed more justification for your next houseplant purchase, newly released research will make your decision easier. Researchers at the University of Washington have successfully modified a common houseplant that will reduce hazardous compounds often found in our homes.
Unless you built your own home with truly sustainable products, you’ve been exposed to volatile compounds such as chloroform and benzene. Chlorinated water releases small chloroform molecules into the air through evaporation. Benzene can be released from a gas furnace or stove, a car being stored in a garage, or a lawnmower. Both of these compounds have direct links to cancer.
While genetically modifying a plant is ethically complicated, this is one occurrence that may be beneficial to even the most objective individual. Researchers at UofW were able to genetically modify pothos ivy to remove both chloroform and benzene from the air around it. Unlike most plants, pothos ivy is unable to be reproduced through pollination when grown outside of its native ecosystem. Having this plant in your home has little to no chance of flowering which greatly decreases its ability to become invasive in nature.
These modified plants express a protein called 2E1 that removes chloroform and benzene from the air. This protein is present only in the liver of mammals leading the researchers to determine if it can function in the same manner in plants. If the hypothesis is found to be true, the result would be the creation of an external, or green, liver. The plants remove harmful compounds by transforming them into carbon dioxide and chloride ions which are used to make their food as well as phenol which is an important component of their cell walls.
When tested, the genetically modified pothos were able to decrease the amount of chloroform in the air by 82% after three days and were undetectable by the 6th day. By day 8, benzene concentrations were decreased by approximately 75 percent.
If you’re interested in reading the full study, it is available in Environmental Science & Technology.