A Genetic Approach to Fuelling the World
I was feeling a little guilty about my scare mongering yesterday, but thankfully I found a pretty cool article which again involves DNA, but has a much more positive slant.
J. Craig Venter, the man famous for mapping the human genome a few years back is turning his knowledge of genetics to trying to solve the worlds impending energy crisis. His new company called Synthetic Genomics will try to create new micro-organisms that may secrete biological heating oil, hydrogen, or even have the ability to breakdown green house gases.
Venter’s work will initially focus on developing what he refers to as ‘bio-factories’ that produce hydrogen and ethanol. It is widely agreed that they are likely to be used to fuel the cars of the future. The genetic material used to create these new organisms will come from aquatic organisms such as algae, and experiments may be conducted with genes from larger animals such as dogs or rats.
Everyone researching into this area is fully aware of the potential ethical and environmental implications of their work, and is taking every precaution to contain their work within the laboratory.
Green Fuel Technologies in Cambridge, Massachusetts have developed storage tanks filled with algae that are fed with carbon emissions (from a power plant), water and sunlight. The algae are then harvested and can be used as bio-diesel fuel. Jay Keasling, from Berkley University is working on a new synthetic organism that could someday produce anti-malarial drugs in bulk at a low cost.
Using microbes for our benefit is not a new phenomenon, people have been doing so for thousands of years, in the production of foodstuffs such as cheese and beer. This approach could solve the problem with current bio-fuel, which requires more energy to produce than it can supply.
This story, along with the one I wrote about biomimetics the other week, and stories of cancer curing drugs being found in the rainforests really do make me think. The more I ponder about these matters, the more it strengthens my suspicion that nature has the answers to most, if not all of our problems- we just need to look a little harder (and perhaps indulge in a little genetic tinkering if needs be).
Remember to pop back on the weekend for the second instalment of Real Men of Genius. If anyone has any suggestions about who they would like me to profile then leave it in the comments below!