Posted on Dec 21, 2018, 10 p.m.
A new GMO plant is being hailed as either an exciting breakthrough for environmental science or as a biological pariah depending on which side of the argument you fall on.
Regardless of your stance most people try to keep the air inside our homes as clean as possible and often go to great lengths to fend off allergens, dust particles, and chemicals at bay, yet some compounds are too small to be trapped in most filters.
University of Washington scientists have genetically modified pothos ivy/devil’s ivy houseplants to remove chloroform and benzene from the air around it by expressing mammalian protein 2E1 that transforms the compounds into molecules the plants use to support their own growth, as published in Environmental Science & Technology.
Molecules such as chloroform present in chlorinated water, or benzene present in gasoline buildup in our homes whenever we shower, boil water, or store vehicles in attached garages; however these compounds are too small to be captured by most filters and exposure has been linked to cancer.
Keeping in mind the hazardous compounds that can buildup in homes the team focused their efforts on cytochrome P450 2E1 protein which turns benzene into phenol and chloroform into carbon dioxide and chloride ions. The protein is found in mammal livers and is turned on when drinking alcohol, and is not available to help process air pollutants.
P450 2E1 is beneficial for plants as they use carbon dioxide and chloride ions to make food, and phenol to help make components of their cell walls. In a process that took over 2 years a synthetic version of the protein was produced and introduced into pothos ivy so each cell in the plant expressed the protein. Pothos do not flower in temperate climates so the GMO plants will not be able to spread via pollen.
Normal pothos ivy and the GMO ivy were put into glass tubes to test how they removed pollutants from the air then added either benzene or chloroform gas into each tube, concentrations of each pollutant was tracked for 11 days. Concentrations gases did not change over time for the normal plants; concentration of chloroform decreased 82% after 3 days and was almost undetectable after 6 days in the GMO plants, and concentrations of benzene decreased more slowly to 75% by day 8.
Higher levels were used in these studies than would typically be found in homes, the scientist expects typical homes levels would drop similarly if not faster over the same time frame. There molecules such as formaldehyde which is present in some woods products and tobacco smoke, feeling it is more simpler and sustainable to put proteins into houseplants than using high energy processes.
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