Our previous research has shown that exposure to contaminants in outdoor and indoor air can affect respiratory health, especially in children. This is important because diseases such as asthma, bronchitis and other conditions are very common and affect many families.
We have also previously written about the discovery that houseplants could potentially improve the quality of indoor air by filtering some common pollutants. Different kinds of plants may be able to absorb different kinds of pollutants from the air and from soil.
More recently, I was interviewed by Julia Ries for an article on Healthline. The article is about a recent study by researchers from the University of Washington in which they show that genetically-modified pothos ivy can absorb benzene and chloroform from the air. For the article, I was quoted as follows:
“Air pollution is a major contributing factor in diseases, including cardiovascular disease, respiratory diseases such as asthma, and potentially brain development in children,” said Luz Claudio, PhD, a tenured professor of environmental medicine and public health at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City.
“We have better control of the environment inside our homes, so it’s worth having clean air indoors as much as possible,” Claudio said.
The original scientific article from the laboratory of Dr. Stuart E. Strand was published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology and can be found HERE. In their study, the Strand team showed that introducing a detoxifying gene that is normally expressed in mammals (a cytochrome called P450 2e1) into pothos ivy plants not only made the plant express the gene, but also made the plant able to detoxify benzene and chloroform from the air.
Although this type of research holds promise as a way to improve our environment, genetically-modifying plants is a controversial approach. We don't know if adding or modifying a gene in an organism can affect other properties beyond the characteristic intended for modification. In spite of those concerns, genetic engineering holds immense promise as part of the arsenal of approaches towards improving environmental health.
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Dr. Luz Claudio is an environmental health scientist, mother and consultant, originally from Puerto Rico. She is a tenured professor of environmental medicine and public health. Luz recently published her first book: How to Write and Publish a Scientific Paper: The Step-by-Step Guide. Dr. Claudio has internship programs and resources for young scientists. Opinions expressed in this blog are solely her own and may not reflect her employer's views.