Glowing Worms Help Detect Indoor Air Pollution


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Indoor air pollution is created by the release of harmful pollutants inside buildings (Credit: Research Gate)

The health impacts of outdoor air pollution are well-known. But indoor air pollution, caused by emissions from building materials or even air fresheners, can be just as harmful. Yet, there are no widely-accepted methods to detect the toxins. But researchers at the University of Turku in Finland hope to change that with the help of tiny glowing worms.

For their study, the scientists used two types of nematodes, also known as roundworms. The millimeter-long transparent worms had been genetically modified. They produced green fluorescent protein (GFP) when placed close to biological or chemical toxins.

The nematodes produced a green glow in the presence of toxins (Credit: University of Turku)

In tests done in the laboratory, Päivi Koskinen and his team found that the worms turned a fluorescent green when exposed to household toxins. This included black mold collected from moisture-damaged structures. The worms could even detect the presence of harsh chemicals in cleaning products. The intensity of the color depended on the amount of toxin present.

“The nematodes cannot tell us what kind of toxic compounds there are in the air, but they can provide an unbiased opinion on health risks associated with indoor air and on the need for more thorough technical investigations,” explains Koskinen.

The worms have previously been used to monitor the harmful effects of things like heavy metals on the environment. But this is the first time they have been used to detect indoor air pollution.

Resources:, University of Turku


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