Herbaceous Innovation

In mine fields and at home, specially engineered plants are helping to keep us safe.

Technological breakthroughs don't have to involve high-tech gadgetry or chemical compounds: While some are busy shrinking microchips and expanding wireless networks, there is also cutting-edge experimentation happening in the comparatively stodgy world of plants.Green Light is an LED ceiling lamp (powered by its own solar panel) with an integrated terrarium of plants that cleanse the air of common indoor pollutants like formaldehyde, benzene, and other poisonous compounds. Designed by Natalie Jeremijenko, Amelia Amon, and Will Kavesh of NYU's Xdesign Environmental Health Clinic and Lab, the lamp produces a light spectrum that catalyzes the plants' chlorophyll, letting the grasses, mosses, and leafy greens suck up chemicals that seep out of home and office furnishings.Offering a more aggressive sort of protection is a kind of biosensor-a weed known as Thales cress-that has been genetically modified to provide a natural warning in the presence of land mines. Thales cress is inherently sensitive to nitrogen dioxide, a chemical byproduct of land mines. The Copenhagen-based biotech company Aresa tweaked the weed's genes so that its leaves would turn from their natural green to bright red in the presence of latent explosives. Field tests have thus far been successful, meaning traditional methods of human and canine mine detection may soon have a less dangerous alternative.LEARN MOREaresa.xkRx Green Light is only available by prescription from NYU's Environmental Health Clinic. Make an appointment at