When GMOs Prove Useful: New Plant Designed to Clean Air

by Lisa Maguire

In the age of the internet, modern science, and genetic testing, we’ve learned a lot about things we once thought were good, the exhaust from things that we believe are necessary, and the effect those things have on us and our environment.

We know that our air is polluted, and there are many modern remedies for it, such as Beyond by Aerus, however, a newly published article from researchers out of University of Washington talks about very small molecules that are difficult to capture in those filters that are released from everyday activities like taking showers or using gasoline-powered engines. Chloroform from chlorinated water and benzene from gasoline can build up in homes, and both compounds have been linked to cancer.

Interestingly enough, we actually carry the ability to express a protein called cytochrome 2E1 in our livers that converts benzene into phenol and chloroform into carbon dioxide. Unfortunately, it’s only activated in our livers when we drink alcohol which does us no good when it comes to air pollutants.

The clever scientists at UW recognized that plants use carbon dioxide as food and phenol to build cell walls and created a synthetic version of the gene to insert into the genetic makeup of pothos ivy, a common house plant known for its easy-to-keep-alive hardiness. 

Pothos Ivy, a common houseplant

In testing phases, researchers observed an 82 percent decrease in chloroform after three days, and nearly undetectable amounts after six days. Benzene decreased a bit more slowly, but still substantially – after eight days, the amount had been reduced by 75 percent. 

The recommendations aren’t yet finalized – there are some logistics that still need to be considered like air flow, plant placements, and a larger testing area. Additionally, the researchers are working on another plant protein that would help remove formaldehyde from the air, which is commonly found in some wood products like cabinets and laminate flooring.


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