This genetically modified plant does the work of 30 houseplants
A Paris-based startup called Neoplants has genetically modified a plant to do the work of 30 common houseplants, according to a report by Inverse published on Thursday.
The company genetically engineered both a pothos (Epipremnum aureum) plant and its associated root microbiome to produce Neo P1, a powerful air purifier. Now, the new super-efficient plant has hit the market, and it could very well revolutionize the air purification industry.
The new invention is bound to be popular. “One of the side effects of the pandemic is that people are much more aware of what’s in the air they breathe,” Patrick Torbey, a molecular biologist and chief technical officer of Neoplants, told Inverse.
No electricity required
One of its main attributes is that it does not require electricity and therefore does not pollute. In addition, in a time when wildfires trouble many regions, air purification is in great demand.
The new invention even has the potential to remove volatile organic compounds (VOC) which conventional air purifiers can simply not process. This is because the compounds are so small that they cannot be captured by traditional methods.
However, plants are designed to be able to catch, absorb and metabolize even the smallest of particles. Neo P1 does exactly that and comes in the shape of one of the most common plants.
“We started with one of the most popular houseplants in North America,” said Lionel Mora, the startup’s co-founder and chief executive officer.
This was no easy task, however, as the pothos vine, which is also known as devil’s ivy, had not had its genome mapped. The Neoplants team, therefore, began with this task.
“It’s like trying to build a plane while flying,” Torbey explained.
The whole ordeal lasted four years, but in the end, the engineers produced a plant that can metabolize four major indoor air pollutants, including formaldehyde and toluene, and that can even absorb certain VOCs.
Further experimentation led to enhanced results
The engineers did not stop there. They also experimented with the microorganisms living in the plant’s roots, inserting genes from extremophile bacteria, which thrive in inhospitable environments by consuming toxic chemicals. This alteration significantly increased the resulting plant’s pollutant-metabolizing capacity.
To further comply with FDA standards and avoid natural disasters, the engineers avoided experimenting on parts of the genome that could promote the plant’s survival in the wild. “We don’t give a selective advantage to the plant. We don’t make it grow faster, we don’t increase its resistance to pesticides,” Torbey stated. “We’re not touching any of that.”
Now, the company is focused on modifying other types of plants to cater to different tastes. It’s also working on reducing the plant’s price which is currently set at $179.
In 2018, researchers from the University of Washington also modified the pothos plant to remove chloroform and benzene from the air around it. At the time, the technology was considered revolutionary.
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