Houseplants do more than just add natural beauty to your abode. They also help.
Now, researchers at the University of Washington have improved the air-cleaning properties of one common household plant, the pothos ivy (epipremnum aureum).
The team genetically modified pothos ivy to not only remove carcinogens such as chloroform and benzene from the air, but to synthesize a protein, called 2E1, that transforms these harmful compounds into molecules the plants use for their own growth.
The researchers chose pothos ivy as the plant for modification because it grows well indoors in a variety of conditions. They detail their work in a new study published this week in Environmental Science & Technology.
The scientists added benzene or chloroform gas to modified and non-modified plants in glass tubes. Over 11 days, they collected data on how each pollutant's concentration changed.
According to the study, the unmodified plants didn't affect the concentration of either gas much. But the modified plants changed the concentration of chloroform dramatically inside the tube, making it drop by 82 percent just after three days. By the sixth day, it was almost completely undetectable.
The concentration of benzene also decreased thanks to the modified plants. By day eight, it dropped by an impressive 75 percent.
"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," study author Stuart Strand said in a statement. "Now we've engineered houseplants to remove these pollutants for us."
The research team plans to add a protein to pothos plants that can break down another hazardous pollutant inside some homes: formaldehyde. This harmful compound is often found in wood flooring and cabinets.
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