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Wednesday, March 12, 2008

18 Months Until Custom-Made, Oil-Pooping Bacteria

Craig Venter has his own scientific institute. He led the private effort to sequence the human genome and was one of Time Magazine's 2007 most important people. And he's been building new life. He builds chromosomes from scratch, inserts the new chromosomes in bacteria, and then "boots up" the organisms.

The DNA he produces in his laboratory are the largest molecules ever created by people and he can individually determine what DNA to include and which to exclude. He can put in junk DNA that, when decoded, simply spells his own name, or is a poem. But, most importantly, he's working to build in code that can force the little bugs into becoming solar-powered crude oil factories.

The new organisms, which Venter says should be multiplying in the lab in the next 18 months, would need high concentrations of CO2 (say, from the smokestack of a coal plant) to convert it to oil at maximum efficiencies. He can alter the octane of the fuel by altering the genes of the organism and, by selecting the best of thousands of molecules, he can "unnaturally select" the most efficient oil producers.

They're calling it 4th generation biofuel, and you can expect that it will be only the first application of this fascinating and somewhat alarming new technology. You can hear Venter himself explain the possibilities of this new technology with Chris Anderson at the recent TED conference in the video above.

Original here

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