Scientists in the US have successfully modified a house-plant’s genes to make it absorb common household carcinogens.
House-plants, thanks to scientists at the University of Washington, the US, will now do more than just generate oxygen and make your house look pretty. They can now save you from cancer. The University of Washington researchers have successfully modified the genes of pothos ivy, a common houseplant, to filter carcinogens that are common in households. Air-filters may trap allergens and some pollutants, but most won’t protect you from carcinogens chloroform and benzene, whose vaporous presence at most households that depend on chlorinated water or have cars—benzene is present in car fuel—makes them too small to be trapped. Household exposure to benzene, in fact, is quite common given it is one of the most used chemicals in the US, and perhaps the entire world, given it is a component in plastics, lubricants, dyes, detergents, drugs, and pesticides. It is present in cigarette-smoke, too. Cue in pothos ivy expressing the gene coding for a protein 2E1 that helps process benzene and chloroform into molecules that the plant use for its own growth.
The researchers zeroed down on a protein that is found in the human liver—indeed, in all mammals—that breaks benzene down into phenol and chloroform into carbon dioxide and chloride ions. Only, it gets triggered when we drink alcohol, not when we breathe in these carcinogens. Scientists modified pothos ivy genes to express the gene coding for rabbit 2E1; in the bargain, the plant gets carbon dioxide and chloride that it can use for food and phenols that are a constituent of plant cell walls. Exposure to carcinogens at home has been relatively less talked about, given there is very little that can be done about it. But, now, with GM pothos ivy, households may just be able to lower their cancer risk.