These plants will catch the problem in your home before it catches you.

By Nicole Bradley
Updated: August 01, 2018

It is said that you’re never truly alone in your home. Yes, that sounds like the beginning of every horror film ever made, but it’s true. And we’re not talking about critters like bugs and mice—there are a number of invisible pathogens floating in the air we breathe, and we don’t even know it. Houseplants are known to purify the air in your house, but one day, they may double-duty as home security.

According to a recent study and experiment from the University of Tennessee, genetically-engineered plants can sense when a home's ecosystem is off-balance. Radon, carbon monoxide, mold, and other bacteria are a few of the top dangers a home and its residents can face, and future houseplants may be able to change color when those harmful antibodies are present. We're talkin' a green plant turning orange when it senses that harmful air is in your home. SCIENCE!

How does this work, exactly? Scientists at the University of Tennessee tested the phenomenon on a tobacco plant. They injected a synthetic fluorescent orange protein into the plant and then released bacteria into the air. Once the plant “inhaled” the bacteria, it would glow orange (like a lava lamp, but way better). It's believed that in the future, scientists will be able to (ethically) take genes from fluorescent jellyfish and modify the gene to defend against, or glow at, unwanted home chemicals, like radon and carbon monoxide. The gene will then be injected into plants for home use.

Now, there are some guidelines for this to work properly. Plants to be genetically modified for the purpose of home security must have a low color pigment—like a spider plant or peace lily—to be able to show color changes. They also must be of decent size, as large and dense plants make more obvious changes in color than smaller ones. It’s also best that these plants are housed near a vent, where the presence of harmful pathogens is more concentrated. A living wall would be ideal for this purpose!

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Comments (1)

southerndill
August 16, 2018
Really like the idea and I know indoor plants keep the air healthy - but I'm not such a fan of GMO in anything we get - eat - or admire. Such a shame.