Don’t think of it as a houseplant. Think of it as a leafy air cleaner. Researchers at the University of Washington have genetically modified the houseplant pothos ivy to remove cancerous molecules, benzene and chloroform from the air around it.
The molecules are so small HEPA air purifiers can’t contain them.
“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,” senior author Stuart Strand said in a University of Washington news release.
The modified ivy releases a 2E1 protein that transforms benzene and chloroform into compounds that can help their growth. Benzene turns into phenol and chloroform turns into chloride ions and carbon dioxide.
“Plants use carbon dioxide and chloride ions to make their food, and they use phenol to help make components of their cell walls,” Stuart said.
The researchers tested the modified plant in tubes with the benzene and chloroform gases, and compared it with the unmodified plant in the same conditions. While the unmodified plants didn’t produce any changes over time, by the sixth day chloroform was almost undetectable in the modified ivy. Benzene concentration decreased about 75% after eight days. The research team published their findings in Environmental Science & Technology.
Now, the researchers are on to a new endeavor: adding a protein to remove formaldehyde, a pollutant in wood and tobacco smoke.