We've always known that the Sun supplies us with more energy than we could ever need, if only we could harness it properly. Suggested solar strategies have ranged from the Bond-ian (the JAXA orbital solar collector) to the workmanlike (the constant improvement of solar-panel efficiency), and now we can add a gooier option: bacteria.
These single-celled organisms are the biggest success story in history, and by sheer numbers they still kick the hell out of all us higher animals (and not just when they're making us sick) while still retaining cellular complexity that the even more numerous viruses lack. They've been touted as a solution for everything from the energy problem to pollution.
Bruce Rittmann certainly thinks they can do it, but then he would, being a Director at the Arizona State University Biodesign Institute. His claims are supported by the fantastic advances in genetics over the past decade - where before we had to hope to find a useful bacteria, now these tiny cellular factories can be bred and reprogrammed for specific tasks.
The simplest biofuel model is one where cells like the catchily named Synechocystis sp. PCC 6803, which photosynthesis solar energy into biodiesel
lipids. An increased range of understood bacteria now presents a much
more versatile option - two stage processes where your
sunlight-drinking bacteria can multiply and be harvested to fuel
(translation: be eaten) by a second-stage cell which produces methane,
hydrogen or even a direct electrical potential.
If anybody sees a problem with producing bacteria which can eat biomass, multiply and excrete flammable gases they aren't saying anything - which just shows how serious people think the oil problem is.
Biofuel Bacteria http://www.physorg.com/news134904801.html
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