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This Houseplant Can Clean Dangerous Chemicals From The Air In Your Home

Our homes are full of nasty chemicals and pollutants -- some can even cause cancer -- but until now there's not much we could do about it.

Each time we shower or boil water, for example, we release chloroform -- a clear, colourless liquid -- which is present in small amounts in chlorinated water from our taps.

Benzene, a main component of gasoline, builds up in our homes or garages where we park our cars or lawn mowers.

Both benzene and chloroform have been flagged as carcinogenic to humans, with the former linked to certain types of leukaemia and the latter colon cancer.

What's worse, these teeny molecules can't be eliminated by air filters -- or let alone be seen by the naked eye.

The solution? Plants.

READ MORE: Six Ways You May Not Have Thought Of To Keep Houseplants Alive

The power of plants

We all know that plants absorb carbon dioxide from the air during photosynthesis -- its how they make their own food. Luckily for us, it means less harmful CO2 for us to breathe in.

Now, researchers at the University of Washington have taken that a step further, spending two years genetically modifying a common houseplant to remove nasties like chloroform and benzene from the air around it.

Epipremnum aureum can be grown in soil or water. Image: Getty.

Their findings, published on December 19 in the Environmental Science & Technology journal, are a major breakthrough.

"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," explained senior author Stuart Strand, who is a research professor in the UW's civil and environmental engineering department.

Now we've engineered houseplants to remove these pollutants for us.
Building a 'super-plant'

The research team identified a protein -- called cytochrome P450 2E1, or 2E1 for short -- in human livers that processes harmful pollutants like benzene and chloroform.

They then replicated and introduced this protein into pothos ivy -- a popular and hardy houseplant that's also known as devil's ivy or money plant -- so that each cell in the plant expressed the protein.

Over a week and a half, the scientists compared the pollution-sucking abilities of modified and normal pothos plants by popping them in containers and smothering them in benzene or chloroform gas.

In one container the superhuman ivy sucked 82 percent of the chloroform out of the air after just three days, while in another the benzene concentration dropped by about 75 percent by day eight.

With the ordinary plants, the concentration of either gas didn't change at all.

READ MORE: Here's What I Do When Life Kicks Me In The Plants

The future looks green

There's no word on when these pollution-busting super plants will be available to pick up at our local Bunnings, but the future does look bright.

Not satisfied with the pothos ivy's current pollution-slaying abilities, the team currently has their sights set on another hazardous molecule found in home air: formaldehyde.

It's present in wood products such as laminate flooring and cabinets, and tobacco smoke.

Feature image: Getty.