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Can houseplants be effective in purifying air?

Can houseplants be effective in purifying the air?


Living in a contemporary, energy-efficient structure may have unforeseen consequences. One of these unintended consequences is decreased airflow. Due to a lack of airflow, these conditions contribute to the development of health problems such as asthma or sick building syndrome. Indeed, contemporary furnishings, synthetic building materials, and even your carpet may contain more toxins than previously thought. These compounds are responsible for up to 90% of indoor air pollution.

We prefer to maintain our houses’ air as clean as possible and occasionally utilize HEPA air filters to keep allergies and dust particles at bay. However, certain dangerous chemicals are too tiny for these filters to capture.

For instance, when we shower or boil water, or store automobiles or lawnmowers in adjacent garages, small molecules such as chloroform, a component of chlorinated water, and benzene, a component of gasoline, accumulate in our homes. Exposure to benzene and chloroform has been related to cancer.

The University of Washington’s scientists have now genetically modified a common houseplant, pothos ivy, to purify the air it breathes. The changed plants express a protein called 2E1 that transforms these compounds into chemicals that the plants can utilize for growth.

The researchers developed a synthetic version of the gene that includes instructions to produce 2E1.Then they inserted it into pothos ivy, where it was expressed by each cell. In temperate climates, pothos ivy does not flower, preventing the genetically altered plants from spreading by pollen.

The researchers next evaluated the ability of their modified plants to remove contaminants from the air compared to wild pothos ivy. They placed both plants in glass boxes and then filled each box with either benzene or chloroform gas. The researchers monitored the concentration of each contaminant in each box for 11 days.

The concentration of either gas remained constant throughout time in unaltered plants. However, the chloroform levels in the transformed plants decreased by 82% after three days and were nearly undetectable by day six. However, benzene concentration reduced more slowly in the modified plant vials: by day eight, the benzene content had decreased by around 75%.

The researchers employed far greater pollutant concentrations than are generally present in houses to identify these changes in pollutant levels. However, the team anticipates that home levels will decline equally, if not faster, over the same period. These plants in the home must be enclosed and have something to flow air past their leaves, such as a fan according to the scientists.

The team is currently aiming to enhance the plants’ capabilities by introducing a protein capable of degrading another harmful compound found in indoor air: formaldehyde, which is found in some types of wood goods, such as laminate flooring and cabinets, and cigarette smoke.

The National Science Foundation, Amazon Catalyst at the University of Washington, and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences supported this research.