Researchers Develop ‘Smart Plants ‘To Detect Radon and Mold

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A research published in iScience reported development of bioengineered plants to detect molds and radon   

Radon is a radioactive gas that moves up through the ground to the air above and into the house through cracks and other holes in the foundation. Abundantly found in homes all over the U.S, it is generated from the natural breakdown of uranium in soil, rock, and water and gets into the air. Breathing radon for a long period of time can lead to lung cancer as the gas in the air breaks down into tiny radioactive elements. These elements lodge in the lining of the lungs and the radiation damages lung cells and eventually lead to lung cancer. Molds on the other hand can cause nasal stuffiness, throat irritation, and coughing or wheezing, eye irritation along with skin irritation.

A research inspired by smoke detectors and smart home monitors published in iScience on July 19, 2018 reports development of bioengineered succulents to detect radon and molds in the house. The genetically engineered houseplants alert homeowners about the presence of harmful chemicals, mold and other kinds of fungi. Moreover, the report suggested that the findings can help in development of houseplants that respond to other threats such as radon and airborne pathogens.

The researchers modified tobacco plants (Nicotiana tabacum) to produce excessive amounts of orange fluorescent protein when they encountered disease-causing bacteria. The tobacco plant contains genome that react to volatile organic compounds that are harmful airborne chemicals. Synthetic chemicals that promote the plant DNA to increase the genome reaction by 10 times were injected in the plant. The cells reacted to the presence of bacteria, by pumping out the orange fluorescent protein. Farmers simply need to wear light-filtering goggles to detect the signal and determine whether the plants glowed orange under a green light. The report suggested that the approach can be used in household pants to detect toxic mold growth and airborne viruses.

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