House plants may not be just for Decoration

By Dr. John Lopes

House plants give a sense of serenity and the presence of nature can help reduce tension. Plants are also reported to purify indoor air quality. However, we often get aphids and spiders on the plants and need to take care of the plants. PRO-SAN a non-toxic antibacterial spray has been found useful in controlling these small insects.

Several chemicals found in our homes can pollute indoor air, for ex. disinfecting sprays, carpet, furniture coating, house paints, hair sprays, cooking, and even beauty products, used every day can release chemical vapors also known as VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds). These pollutants include benzene, quaternary ammonium compounds, various alcohols, preservatives and unknown chemicals that can exacerbate asthma, allergies and can be carcinogenic.

Animals have cytochrome P450 2E1 (CYP2E1), based enzyme system to breakdown and to remove toxic chemicals. A key enzyme in mammals that helps clear toxins from the body, (CYP2E1) normally helps break down toxins in the liver. To enhance their ability to remove VOCs, some plants, have been genetically modified to produce (CYP2E1), an enzyme that can effectively remove toxic chemicals from indoor air.

Dr. Stuart E. Strand and colleagues at the University of Washington genetically modified the common houseplant pothos ivy (Epipremnum aureum) to produce CYP2E1. They further tested the ability of the plants to remove two important volatile organic compounds namely benzene and chloroform, known for their carcinogenicity. They found that the genetically modified plants cleared out 4.7 times more benzene than the wild-type plants. The genetically modified plants also decreased the concentration of chloroform by 82% during the first 3 days and almost completely after 6 days. In contrast, the wild-type plants did not clear any chloroform from the air.

 Since it is difficult to remove these stable chemicals, plants can remove and in fact potentially use the chemicals. Chloroform is converted to carbon dioxide and benzene is converted to phenols used for plant cell walls. The scientists are further working to be able to remove formaldehyde used in wall and furniture material.