Neoplants biotechnologists grow indoor plants to use them as air purifiers • TechCrunch

Meet Neoplants, a French startup is designing genetically modified houseplants so they can absorb air pollutants. The startup’s first plant, Neo P1, works in tandem with the company’s own microbiome located in the soil near plant roots.

Neoplants specifically target a group of indoor air pollutants that traditional air purifiers cannot effectively capture. Most air purifiers focus on particulate matter. But dealing with volatile organic compounds (VOCs) is more difficult.

That’s why Neoplants focuses on two types of VOCs – formaldehyde (HCHO) and benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene (BTEX). These pollutants come from outdoor pollution, but can also come from materials used in construction, such as paints, coatings, and chemicals. Cooking and smoking can also promote indoor pollution.

“Our factory is able to capture four major components of home air pollution. But it can also turn it into something useful because it can become plant matter,” co-founder and CEO Lionel Mora told me.

Plants normally metabolize CO2. But Neo P1 has been modified at the DNA level so that it produces new enzymes that can also metabolize air pollutants. For example, it turns formaldehyde into fructose, and it turns BTEX compounds into an amino acid that plants can later use to produce protein.

Although genetically modified organisms are not new, the company says applying these methods to houseplants is new. “We had to sequence and document the genetic makeup of this plant,” co-founder and CTO Patrick Torbey told me.

Image credits: Neoplants

But plants also need some bacteria to process VOCs. The startup has selected the most effective group of bacteria against toluene and benzene through multiple rounds of directed evolution. In other words, Neoplants customers must also regularly add some exclusive powerdrop to ensure that the microbial-enhanced plant and soil combination continues to work well.

After four years of research, Neoplants will start pre-ordering sometime in the first quarter of 2023. The company makes its own buds. It has partnered with industrial companies in the horticulture industry so that they can grow these plants at their production sites.

Neoplants will sell the Neo P1 pack with the plant itself, a potted plant with an inner basket designed for maximum air intake, and three months of microbiome for $179. The company has raised $20 million from True Ventures, Heartcore, Entrepreneur First, Collaborative Fund and various business angels, such as Niklas Zennström.

Next, Neoplants aims to use similar processes with other cultivars and other characteristics. It wants to start working on carbon capture and storage next year.

Image credits: Neoplants

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