Genetically Modified Houseplants Are Here

French company makes tweaks to turn plants into more efficient air cleaners
By Steve Huff,  Newser Staff
Posted May 7, 2023 1:55 PM CDT
Genetic Tweaks May Make Plants Better Air Cleaners
This undated image shows golden, from left, marble and neon varieties of pothos plants.   (Horti via AP)

A French biotech company wants to clear the air—literally. Neoplants introduced its genetically-engineered pothos plants late last year, touting the plant's ability to metabolize indoor air pollutants often missed by traditional air purifiers, reports MIT's Technology Review. The pollutants, known as volatile organic compounds (VOCs), are often emitted by sources like paint, gas stoves, and building materials. Neoplants claims that its innovative pothos variant, called Neo P1, in addition to being a tough and aesthetically appealing houseplant, provides a significant improvement in indoor air quality.

Neoplants's cofounder, Patrick Torbey, explained the company's "two-pronged approach" to Technology Review. First comes tweaking how the plant metabolizes nutrients by adding new genes that cause the plant to make new enzymes that help to absorb VOCs. This allows the pollution to actually aid in creating additional plant material which starts a cycle of steadily increasing pollutant absorption. Next, the Neoplant process adds bacteria strains that help transform toxic substances like benzene and toluene into life-supporting amino acids and sugars.

On its website, the company claims these changes make Neo P1 "equivalent to up to 30 regular houseplants in terms of air purification." Wired notes that field tests outside a lab setting are on the horizon in regard to that boast. New Atlas adds that Neo P1 comes in its own specially-designed potting soil that has been enhanced by biochar, which is a kind of charcoal that can aid—along with supplements Neoplants calls Power Drops—propagating helpful microorganisms. Torbey tells MIT that while his company is starting small with houseplants, they believe this technology could one day help the entire world. "I’ll be disappointed," he says, "if there’s a plant on the moon and it’s not a Neoplant." (More clean air stories.)

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