Craig Venter, Geneticist
Craig Venter has been making headlines over the past years for a wide variety of genetic “miracles”. The controversial scientist has made a lot of wild claims, but surprisingly most of them have panned out. But his latest “crazy” idea might just top them all. Venter recently disclosed that he is creating a life form that feeds on climate-ruining carbon dioxide to produce fuel. It’s hard to imagine a better win-win, and he says he’s very close to making the dream a reality. Such a feat could be world changing.
"We have modest goals of replacing the whole petrochemical industry and becoming a major source of energy," Venter told Al Gore, Google co-founder Larry Page and other attendees at the Technology, Entertainment and Design conference held recently in Monterey, California. "We think we will have fourth-generation fuels in about 18 months, with CO2 as the fuel stock."
Venter says that there is virtually no limit to the kind of applications that designer organisms can be custom created for.
"We have 20 million genes which I call the design components of the future," Venter said. "We are limited here only by our imagination."
Biofuel, such as ethanol, are third-generation alternatives to oil, but it takes nearly as much fuel to produce ethanol as is created, not to mention a plethora of other environmentally unfriendly issues related to corn—it is hotly contested whether or not the US should be putting money into ethanol. However, what is being called fourth-generation fuels—life forms that feed on CO2 and give off usable fuel such as methane gas as “waste” product—should prove to be a vastly more excellent alternative for a variety of reasons, including cost, and vastly superior environmental friendliness.
Venter’s team is using synthetic chromosomes to modify organisms that already naturally produce octane. The scientists will be doing some tweaking to coax the organisms to eat more CO2 and excrete more copius amounts of fuel.
"If they could produce things on the scale we need, this would be a methane planet," Venter said. "The scale is what is critical; which is why we need to genetically design them."
Venter said he is also working on organisms that make vaccines for the flu and other illnesses. As for the fear that mutant organisms will rise up and kill most of humanity while transforming the rest into vampire zombies as in the blockbuster I Am Legend (based on Richard Mathesons's brilliant novel)…well, we’ll just have to see about that. Venter says that all modified organisms will be imbedded with "suicide genes", so that if they start to run amok, they can be triggered to kill themselves.
"We will see an exponential change in the pace of the sophistication of organisms and what they can do," Venter said. "We are a ways away from designing people. Our goal is just to make sure they survive long enough to do that."
Posted by Rebecca Sato.
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