In his presentation at the annual TED meeting, redoubtable gene-meister Craig Venter predicted that his team would soon produce synthetic bacteria which would consume carbon dioxide to produce a "fourth generation fuel" and help solve man-made global warming as well. As AFP reports:
"We have modest goals of replacing the whole petrochemical industry and becoming a major source of energy," Venter told an audience that included global warming fighter Al Gore and Google co-founder Larry Page.
"We think we will have fourth-generation fuels in about 18 months, with CO2 as the fuel stock." …
His team is using synthetic chromosomes to modify organisms that already exist, not making new life, he said. Organisms already exist that produce octane, but not in amounts needed to be a fuel supply.
"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."
The genetics of octane-producing organisms can be tinkered with to increase the amount of CO2 they eat and octane they excrete, according to Venter.
Sounds great, though Venter does note a not inconsiderable problem:
The limiting part of the equation isn't designing an organism, it's the difficulty of extracting high concentrations of CO2 from the air to feed the organisms, the scientist said in answer to a question from Page.
Venter's bonus line?
"We are a ways away from designing people. Our goal is just to make sure they survive long enough to do that."
Whole AFP story here.