It could be an aerial photo of an oil spill: liquid spheres pooling, oozing, dwarfing a bedraggled landscape. I half expect to zoom in on poisoned seal pups or waterbirds dragging their oil-soaked feathers. But the scene is microscopic. The "landscape" is made of E. coli. And what's happening is exactly the opposite of what it seems. The little bugs aren't drowning in fuel. They're making it.
I'm watching this image on a computer screen at Amyris Biotechnologies in Emeryville, California, where one of the founders, biologist Jack Newman, is giving me a tour. The genetically manipulated E. coli before me are highly crafted units of industrial production, which Amyris is using to turn sugar into novel versions of gasoline, jet fuel and diesel—in other words, the fuels on which the world already runs. Amyris is one of a handful of young biofuel companies putting a brilliant and weird twist on the future of green. It's betting that, with the help of bacteria, the long-term answer to our gasoline woes will actually be . . . gasoline.
Because as it stands, the main alternative to petroleum, ethanol (a type of alcohol), is fraught with problems. It can't be pumped through current infrastructure because it tends to corrode pipelines. And according to University of Minnesota economist Jason Hill, even if all the corn grown in the U.S. were converted to ethanol, it would replace only some 12 percent of the 146 billion gallons of gasoline we use every year. Cellulosic ethanol—fuel produced from the cellulosic matter contained in plant stalks and stems rather than from seeds—would solve that problem, but the technology to produce it on a large scale is still a way off. Plus, ethanol simply isn't as energy dense as petroleum-based fuels.
This is why a growing number of scientists have begun to look to the microbial world for new, environmentally sound ways to make good old-fashioned gasoline. If microbes can be manipulated to turn, say, sugarcane into hydrocarbon fuel—and each new sugarcane crop absorbs most of the carbon dioxide that's emitted by burning the fuel made from the previous crop—then you've got oil-free, nearly carbon-neutral gasoline. It may sound far-fetched, but the evidence is in this picture; oily blobs of hydrocarbons pool around the cells in a pattern that looks like a lava-lamp screensaver. "So this is how you're gonna save the world?" I ask Newman. "Help save the world," he corrects.
I guess it's just one more way we can get out of the corner we'e backed ourselves into.
Gasoline as a renewable resource?
sounds good to me.
Although this technology has infinite uses and could potentially save us from our oil problems among others, the possibilities are frightening. The ability to build organisms from scratch or to fine tune genes for our own reasons could lead to many unforeseen problems.
We should have seen the opposition from the Middle East coming then we could at least had a head start on this problem. Affordable solar-powered cars are a long way off, and ethanol wouldn't really help us that much. Hydrogen is still a long way off also. If nuclear could be controlled more effectively and the radiation contained, then we would be in business. One of the plug-in prius's that my dad tested took the energy that the car used from the batteries and used it to fuel the car. Whenit was coasting or braking it would take that energy and put it back into the batteries. I thought that was really cool.
This is a great idea however for it to be mass produced I would guess that funding is incapable of of weighing out rising oil prices. An idea created by a bunch of funny-looking scientists with nothing but a dream is one thing but a nation to support it is another.
I like the principle but I would like to know more about how accidental releases of these modified bacterias can be controlled.
For example, E.Coli is a bacteria that we have in our intestines and gasoline is carcinogen. I would not want this modified E.Coli in my intestines.
They are on the right track. but they are going to have similar problems as ethanol. Corn is not free, sugar is not free. Sure, sugar maybe cheap but as you try supplying the demand to make 12 billion barrels the price is going to go up, farmers will stop growing other crops as sugar is now worth much more and other crops, then other crops become more expensive.
I would think conversion from a product that is waste, like cellulose or nitrogenous sewer waste would be they way you would want to go. These sources have a decent energy content already and we are paying to dispose of them. Wind and solar energy sources are free yet there are not many companies that are making a "legitimate" profit off the production of energy from these devices. The secret to our problems is to find energy that is naturally produced without significant further expenditure of energy for it's use.
I believe they will produce a great bug that will convert 100% sugar to oil, but they have to envision the roll-out on the global economy to see its feasibility.
A lot of these comments point out the draw backs to this idea as if it were presented as our solution to pumping oil from the ground. This is far from true. Popular Science reports on new emerging technologies that are being concocted in labrotories across the globe. I, for one, enjoy hearing about POSSIBLE breakthroughs in technology that could help supplement future energy needs. I would hate to discourage the folks that devote their lives to research of this kind (even if it's for profit). I'm guessing that there will not be a single solution to the energy crisis but a combination of new sources of energy coupled with conservation efforts will prevail.
I hope they can acually do it because it will benfit us all in many ways
I think this is great. ... The next step is to have the same organism generate its own sugars through photosynthesis and possibly some minerals and excrete oil! (A nice light crude or directly as gasoline or no sulfur diesel fuel, while I am pontificating! Then to dream that you don't even have to strain out the 'impurities' because the cell structure would be combustible in the same devices :) )
I have entered my user name and password dozen's of times and you seem to never accept it. If I am doing something wrong please advise in everyday language.
About 2 months ago I sent a card from your mag to subscribe for 24 months and I have never heard anything back. I checked the box bill me later.
I expected my subscribution to start or get a bill or something. So far I have heard nothing.
3353 Glade Creek Blvd. NE 3 3
Roanoke, VA 24012-8677
In case you haven't noticed, this is not a customer service forum. Maybe you should try subscribing online since you obviously have a computer and internet access. Also, not wise to post you name and address.
Not such a good idea. If this were to get out of the lab, life a we now know it might cease to exist.
Now when you get e-coli, your body breaks down into petrolium and you die from chemical poisoning.
Must we forget that every living organism on the planet is composed at least partially of sugars.
Good effort at trying to solve the problem, just too dangerous of an approach. I would want solid irrefutable proof that when (not if) this spreads beyond the industrial usage, that it won't harm other plants, animals or humans.
Sugar cane isn't grown very heavily in the U.S. meaning we'd be dependent on countries like China, Brazil, India etc...and of course, this type of dependence is not a good thing. If we shift more of our crops towards grwoing sugar cane, we'd still have the rise in food prices like we're seeing now because then we'd have sugar cane competing against wheat for land.
If this method ever becomes popular, I hope they will contain this modified bacteria..my concern is that if it ever gets loose, it might be able to destroy crops that are high in sugar and turn them into cesspools of this fuel...
I dont' think this would be of help to the global warming problem because the rate at which we emit greenhouse gasses would be faster than the rate at which the sugar cane plants could absorb them.
Lastly, this huge growth in sugar cane production could make worse, the already low human rights standards in poorer counties.
I don't understand why some people think there is something wrong with the concept of companies developing things for profit. There has never been one significant breakthrough made by a non-profit organization, including Government funded non-profit organizations.
Non-profit researchers are after one thing and one thing only - grant money. In fact, the longer they take to do anything the more money they get. The more they embrace feel-good theories, like global warming and the benefits of stem cell research, the better their chance of getting money. The fact that there is no progress in these areas just means that these people are not getting enough money. Give 'em more!
For-profit organizations develop things for one reason - to please customers. No customers, no profit. They faster the for-profit organization develops solutions, the greater the chance to make a profit. Profit means money for research to develop new products (not to mention jobs for people and products that don't have to be government-mandated to sell).
Excellent point about the farmers going where the money is. That's why the government-mandated gasohol craze has created a new wave of global famine,
I guess the not-for-profit people will have to keep a few token for-profit companies around so that some people can actually earn a living. These folks can then have their hard-earned money confiscated through taxation to pay for the not-for-profit folks.
I think it is dangours due to the fact it is a quick breading bacteria and it can adapt qucikly. They never stated the procces in which it got food from.. It might sound like a theorey made by a 1960 horror move producer or an oil tycon.
I think this could go two ways: Revolutionary or plain dangerous.
We could be living in near-unpolluted paradise or living in hospitals being slowly and painfully converted into hydrocarbons because of our sugar content. But it would actually be interesting to see a bug defenselessly ripped into a joke on ethanol, huh? I Think Not. Of course we could also go as fast as a normal car, but without large amounts of emissions. We could, but the danger rate is too high. Sorry, but try something else.
This kinda makes me nervous. I'm all for a way to create gas so I don't have to give up my classic car, but this could turn out bad. How do we know this bacteria couldn't infect and process the sugars in animals? Plants? Us? If they can, how quickly do they process sugars and how quickly do they replicate? I'm curious if there is anyway to inhibit the bacteria from using the sugar in a living thing. Inhibitors perhaps?
If you've seen the movie Legend, you know where I'm going. I think the idea of using microbes to work for us is great. It would actually be a great symbiotic relationship. They get to eat/reproduce, and we get the byproduct (fuel). However, it goes without saying that the testing must take into careful consideration possible consequences. Such as a “Microbe Locust” that complete destroys everything organic in its path. Especially when you are talking about creating something that is hard to kill, “Making the bugs hardy enough to survive the brutal life of a fuel-manufacturing microbe is key”. While you are "programming" these microbes, be sure to program an easy off switch that doesn't require harsh pesticides. :)
Does anybody have an idea how they modify the bacteria? I had a theory about gene splicing as that is the most practiced method but if anybody has anything to say please post.
I think that they are on the right track but they have to watch not to encroach upon the world's fuel reserves.
i agree with many on this; turning sugar into gas will raise suger prices--just like ethenol did corn. but that might not be a bad thing. a raise in sugar prices will almost exclusivly affect dessert and candy prices, which most would say is a good thing.
america cannot live on sugar alone. sugar derived gas + algea biodeisel + solar assisted hybrids(read the new solar panel articule)= america with cheap, reliable, non-imported, fuel; and not using much of it
it would actually be interesting to see a bug defenselessly ripped into a joke on ethanol, huh? I Think Not. Of course we could also go as fast as a normal car, but without large amounts of emissions. We could, but the danger rate is too high. Sorry, but try something else.
I really like this idea, and I think it will work. If it would be done on a large scale, that would be great.