Stuart Stand, Ph.D.
University of Washington
Scientists previously funded by NIEHS developed a houseplant that can remove chloroform and benzene from the air around it. Benzene in the home can originate from outside air, fuel storage in attached garages, and tobacco smoke. Chloroform can be released into the air in small amounts from water during showering.
The researchers genetically modified a common houseplant, pothos ivy, to express a protein called 2E1 that transforms these compounds into molecules the plants can use to support their own growth. The researchers made a synthetic version of the gene that expressed the rabbit form of 2E1 and introduced it into pothos ivy so that each cell in the plant expressed the protein.
The researchers tested how well their modified plants could remove the pollutants from air by putting the plants in glass tubes and adding either benzene or chloroform gas. The compared results for the modified plants with those from normal pothos ivy. For the unmodified plants, concentrations did not change over time for either gas. For the modified plants, the concentration of chloroform dropped by 82 percent after three days, and it was almost undetectable by day six. The benzene concentration dropped by about 75 percent by day eight.
According to the authors, they expect levels in homes to drop similarly if plants are inside an enclosure with something to move air past their leaves, like a fan. However, more work is needed to establish the practical usefulness of these plants in removing chloroform and benzene in the home.
Citation: Zhang L, Routsong R, Strand SE. 2018. Greatly enhanced removal of volatile organic carcinogens by a genetically modified houseplant, pothos ivy (Epipremnum aureum) expressing the mammalian cytochrome P450 2e1 gene. Environ Sci Technol 53(1):325–331.