Weekly Blog Roundup

Biofuels & Climate Change

This week in the blogosphere there’s a lot of chatter about synthetic biology. The Columbia Journalism Review says that synthetic biology is still not a story. They cite a number of articles in a number of publications however they say,

“According to a recent poll, Americans know very little about synthetic biology, which seeks to genetically engineer new forms of life or endow existing ones with novel powers. Part of that may be the press’s fault. While the field has drawn increased media attention over the last seven years or so, it is still not seen as a major story.”

“The most important and popular angles are efforts to synthesize organisms that produce clean fuels and that fight disease. But an interesting alternative, for smaller outlets especially, is the International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) competition, an undergraduate synthetic biology contest run by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The San Francisco Chronicle, the Houston Chronicle, The Capital Times (unfortunately, unavailable online) in Madison, Wisconsin, and other regional newspapers have run stories on local students creating biological “machines” that fight cancer; detect arsenic in water; or simply make the room smell like bananas. NPR did a story about using synthetic biology to brew better beer.
Given this body of work, perhaps one should thank the press for helping elevate American awareness of synthetic biology from 9 to 22 percent, rather than faulting journalists for the low figure overall. Many outlets, such as the Los Angeles Times, have hardly touched the subject, however. That won’t do.”

New Hampshire public radio did a spot on synthetic biology with Drew Endy a researcher and professor at Stanford University.

Onto biofuels, Xconomy of San Diego writes,

“When the organizers of the annual Algae Biomass Summit convene to begin planning for next year’s event, they might consider renaming it the Algae Biomass Smackdown.

It might be more accurate, considering the air of skepticism that seemed to pervade some of the sessions I attended during the three-day conference that was held last week in downtown San Diego. Bear in mind that in September 2008 we learned that Bill Gates’ investment arm, Kirkland, WA-based Cascade Investment, was participating in a $100 million secondary round of funding for San Diego’s Sapphire Energy. About 10 months later, ExxonMobil disclosed that it was investing $600 million to develop algae biofuels, including at least $300 million through a partnership with Synthetic Genomics, the algae biofuels startup founded by human genome pioneer J. Craig Venter.”

Biofuels get some attention this week in the New York Times,

“Across the country, start-up companies and major corporations are trying to produce biofuel without relying on food crops the way corn-based ethanol does. Congress has already guaranteed these companies a market if they can make the fuel, and the government has given some of them construction grants. The companies have raised millions from investors.

The results of all this effort are starting to show. Pilot facilities are going up, companies are testing their production lines, and they are starting to make better estimates of the likely costs.”

The New York Times also blogs this week on Tanzania and biofuels reporting this key piece of information,

“Reacting to mounting pressure from farmers and environmental groups citing concerns over food shortages, the Tanzanian government has reportedly suspended all biofuel investments in the country and halted land allocations for biofuel development.”

At the moment there doesn’t seem to be an immediate solution at this point and that only suggests that there is more discussion to come.

That’s it for the round up! See you next week.

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