Monday, February 27, 2006

Designer Microbes, the Human Genome Project and Alternative Fuels

J. Craig Venter, the man who is known for mapping the human genome, is proposing to create a new form of life that can help create alternative fuels. He hopes to create designer microbes -- the heart of a biological engine -- from scratch, then adding genes culled from the sea to turn crops such as switch grass and cornstalks into ethanol.

While he's at it, he'd like to modify or devise microorganisms to produce a steady stream of hydrogen.

Venter also now sports an extensive collection of genetic material scooped from the sea from a three year Darwinesque journey around the world -- and that's the raw material for his alternative fuel project. With $15 million from Mexican venture capitalist Alfonso Romo Garza, he has launched a new company in Rockville called Synthetic Genomics Inc.

This is pretty exciting -- a chance to conserve the earth's limited resources and create alternative fuels -- on the other hand, what sort of risks might be associated with creating such new life form?

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