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Scientists added rabbit DNA to a houseplant, and now it’s an air purifier

Published Dec 19th, 2018 8:39PM EST

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Plants are very good at producing oxygen that we all need in order to breath, but what about clearing the air of harmful chemicals? Past research has revealed that plants do a bit of housekeeping when it comes to cleaning the air of certain compounds but researchers wondered if they could help boost that function with a genetic tweak.

In new research published in Environmental Science & Technology, researchers explain how they were able to give a common house plant more power to clean the air around it, and it’s all thanks to DNA from a mammal.

The scientists started with a plant called devil’s ivy, which despite its name is a fairly mundane house plant. They modified the planet’s genes by adding a synthetic version of a gene normally found in rabbits called P450 2e1. In animals, the gene helps rid the body of chemicals by promoting an enzyme that breaks them down, and it seems as though the same is true for plants.

The team tested their new creation by pitting the plant against airborne chemicals including chloroform and benzene, both of which can be found in the air in many homes. They then compared the plants’ ability to clean the air against a set of control plants and found that the modified plants were nearly five times more efficient at breaking down the chemicals in the surrounding air.

The researchers are currently planning on performing additional tests to see what other chemicals the plants might be good at clearing out of the air. They are also considering testing other modified plants with different genes to see what kind of results they see. The work is still fairly new, but it’s already sounding very, very promising.