Monday, 3 March 2008

Dr. Craig Venter to create fuel out of CO2!

B.Sameer Mar 1 2008

Genetic engineering along with nanotechnology are two branches of science that hold a future for human race that is so spectacular in magnitude that is hard to fathom the future anymore. They have progressed beyond our imagination to create reality that more likely appear to be more the contrived creative juices of a writer of science fiction. While one dream of science fiction named ‘time travel’ is still many miles away if not impossible (and we will leave that idea with the quantum physicists to realize) many more things that we once dreamed of are becoming a reality.

Dr. Craig Venter is no ordinary person. Listed by the Time magazine as among the 100 most influential men on the planet; he is the one who mapped the genome and the genetic diversity of the oceans. Just a couple of days ago he made the amazing revelation that he is creating a life-form that is going to feed on Carbon dioxide to produce fuel! Yes, that is right. He is going to make an organism that will produce fuel from exhaust! Now if that indeed comes to be a reality (and knowing this man’s credentials and ability, there is no need to doubt his claims), then we are looking at possibly the greatest piece of invention in the history of mankind.

Now the science buffs will pardon me if I get this wrong, but since no such organism inherently exists in nature and Dr. Venter is going about creating one, I suppose I can take the liberty of calling it an invention. I mean, this is his creation. Geneticist Craig Venter disclosed his potentially world-changing “fourth-generation fuel” project at an elite Technology, Entertainment and Design conference in Monterey, California. He went on to claim that he had a ‘modest goal’ of ‘replacing the whole petrochemical industry and becoming a major source of energy’! Talk about modesty and having a damn good sense of humor too.

But I suppose for a man of his potential such a goal might indeed look modest and maybe he meant what he said. His team is using synthetic chromosomes to modify organisms that already exist, not making new life, he said. Organisms already exist that produce octane, but not in amounts needed to be a fuel supply. Dr. Venter has apparently 20 million genes at his disposal to set about at work and I suppose that is pretty much everyday job for this man.

The limiting part of the equation isn’t designing an organism, it’s the difficulty of extracting high concentrations of CO2 from the air to feed the organisms, the scientist said in answer to a question from Page. To top it all off he said that they also put suicide genes in the organisms in case they escape his lab. So basically there is no life out of the lab for them and no need for all the crazy guys to go trying to find a doomsday scenario in this. The heartening aspect is that the claim comes from a man who knows what it takes to get there. It is not some lunatic working in his garage just to get cheap publicity. Al gore was there listening and if you ask me, it would do well for us to keep a close eye on this too!

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