This Week in the Blogosphere

Biofuels & Climate Change

This week industrial biotechnology is a hot topic in the blogosphere. The WWF released a report,

“Industrial biotechnology has the potential to save the planet up to 2.5 billion tons of CO2 emissions per year and support building a sustainable future, a WWF report found.

As the world is debating how to cut dangerous emissions and come together in an international agreement treaty which will help protect the planet from potentially devastating effects of climate change, innovative ideas how to reduce our CO2 are very valuable.”

Kurt Cagle, writes on book publisher O’Reilly’s blog, From Pond Scum to Powerhouse: Algae Biofuels Day in the Sun.

“However, one biofuel is beginning to gain a great deal of research (and investor) interest: Algae. It turns out that there are a number of strains of algae which, when cooked, produce a remarkably pure grade of composite hydrocarbons, from ethanol all the way up to octane and higher chains. In a way, this isn’t surprising – most oil and natural gas that currently exists in the world came not from decaying trees and dinosaurs (generally) but rather came as algae in shallow oceans and seas absorbed sunlight, photosynthesized various sugar energies, then died and drifted to the sea floors. Deprived of the oxygen free radicals that would have decomposed them on land, the algae formed thick layers, hundreds or even thousands of feet deep, with the bottom-most layers becoming increasingly compressed by the weight of sludge and water on top of them.”

This week popular blog, boing boing writes about a New Yorker article, Where Will Synthetic Biology Lead Us. Boing boing writes this,

“One team of biologists, led by Jay Keasling at Berkeley, has had great success with amorphadine, the precursor to the malaria medicine artemisinin: they constructed a microbe to manufacture the compound, and by 2012 they will have produced enough artemisinin that the cost for a course of treatment will drop from as much as ten dollars to less than a dollar. “We have got to the point in human history where we simply do not have to accept what nature has given us,” Keasling tells Specter. He envisions a much larger expansion of the discipline, engineering cells to manufacture substances like biofuels.

Another scientist, Drew Endy of Stanford, has collaborated with colleagues to start the BioBricks Foundation, a nonprofit organization formed to register and develop standard parts for assembling DNA. Endy predicts that if synthetic biology succeeds, “our ultimate solution to the crisis of health-care costs will be to redesign ourselves so that we don’t have so many problems to deal with,” but he also acknowledges the risks inherent in the field. Synthetic biology, Endy tells Specter, is “the coolest platform science has ever produced, but the questions it raises are the hardest to answer.” Yet he also argues that “the potential is great enough, I believe, to convince people it’s worth the risk.” Specter writes, “The planet is in danger, and nature needs help.” While biological engineering will never “solve every problem we expect it to solve,” he writes, “what worked for artemisinin can work for many of the products our species will need to survive.””

The blog Singularity Hub announces,
iGEM 2009: Synthetic Biology Competition Bigger than Ever this Halloween,

“Like some Frankenstein monster composed of space camp, graduate school, and science fair, iGEM is ready to spring to life this Halloween. The International Genetic Engineering Machine competition is now in its 6th iteration and will feature some of the best undergraduate work in synthetic biology the world has ever seen. The main jamboree from Oct 31st to Nov 2nd will allow the more than 110 teams competing to reveal the successes and failures from their summer long foray into the laboratory. As always, iGEM is hosted by MIT and the public is invited to attend the awards ceremony on Sunday November 1st at 8am. If you’re in the Boston area, you definitely want to go. Last year’s winners included bacteria that could produce electricity, e.coli that could hunt and kill other pathogens, and yeast that could give beer high levels of resveratrol.”

And that’s all for this week.

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