More than a pretty plant
What is new, and is discussed by the authors in the Science article, is the concept of applying synthetic biology to houseplants beyond aesthetic reasons, like larger blooms or variegated foliage.
‘Houseplants are ubiquitous in our home environments’, says Neal Stewart. ‘Through the tools of synthetic biology it’s possible for us to engineer houseplants that can serve as architectural design elements that are both pleasing to our senses and that function as early sensors of environmental agents that could harm our health, like mould, radon gas or high concentrations of volatile organic compounds.’
Stewart explains that plant biosensors could be designed to react to harmful agents in any number of ways, such as gradually changing the colour of their foliage or through the use of fluorescence.
‘They can do a lot more than just sit there and look pretty’, he says. ‘They could alert us to the presence of hazards in our environment.’
The authors postulate that dense populations of biosensors would be needed, so architectural design elements like ‘plant walls’ might best serve as environmental monitors while also serving our innate need to connect with Nature even while indoors.
‘Biophilic design builds on our innate affiliation with Nature, so integrating biophilic elements within the interior volume carries rich implications spatially and experientially’, says Abudayyeh. ‘Building responsive capabilities into interior plants is revolutionary. It allows biophilic elements within space to assume a more integral role in the space, actively contributing to the wellbeing of the occupant holistically.’
Health and wellbeing
While the Science article presents the concept, Neal Stewart and Abudayyeh have plans to bring their ideas from the lab to future blueprints and ultimately to our homes, schools, hospitals and offices. Neal Stewart and Abudayyeh have already collaborated on a grant proposal, and they plan to pursue additional projects in the future.
‘Our work should result in an interior environment that is more responsive to overall health and wellbeing of its occupants while continuing to provide the benefits plants bring to people every day’, says Abudayyeh. ‘I’m thrilled that my students will be part of this breakthrough research as they integrate this kind of innovation into designing interior spaces.’
Click here for more about biophilic design and its benefits.