Hello,

We noticed you're browsing in private or incognito mode.

To continue reading this article, please exit incognito mode or log in.

Not an Insider? Subscribe now for unlimited access to online articles.

Rewriting Life

Building Better Bacteria

A cheap, renewable, environmentally friendly energy source is the goal not just of many engineers, but also of some biotechnologists. J. Craig Venter, founder of Celera Genomics, which raced against the Human Genome Project to sequence the entire human complement of DNA, has set up the Institute for Biological Energy Alternatives, a nonprofit laboratory that is hunting for ways microbes can provide energy and clean the environment.

Researchers have been experimenting with bacteria that can produce fuels such as hydrogen and methane, as well as those that can remove carbon dioxide, a major greenhouse gas, from the air. But it’s difficult or impossible to grow many of the most promising organisms in a lab. So Venter plans to use the latest genetic-engineering tools to amplify these bacteria’s gas-producing and air-cleaning traits and transfer them to other microbes that are easier to work with, or eventually to build entirely new organisms.

The institute’s first efforts, though, will focus on engineering existing bacteria to produce large amounts of hydrogen for fuel cells or to collect atmospheric carbon dioxide on an industrial scale. Venter says he expects results within one to five years.

This story is part of our December 2002/January 2003 Issue
See the rest of the issue
Subscribe

Venter’s unusual tactics may be just what’s needed to coax microbes to work at such a scale, says Gregory Stephanopoulos, an MIT chemical engineer who is an expert on genetically engineered microbes. “They’ll be taking an unconventional approach to these problems. I am encouraged by that,” he says. For example, Venter says that the method he used to sequence human DNA could uncover useful genes from organisms that can’t be grown in the lab. If Venter can extend his record of success, power plants may one day run on vats of microbes instead of fossil-fuel furnaces.

Cut off? Read unlimited articles today.

Become an Insider
Already an Insider? Log in.
More from Rewriting Life

Reprogramming our bodies to make us healthier.

Want more award-winning journalism? Subscribe to Insider Basic.
  • Insider Basic {! insider.prices.basic !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Six issues of our award winning print magazine, unlimited online access plus The Download with the top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox.

    See details+

    What's Included

    Unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website

    The Download: our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation

    Bimonthly print magazine (6 issues per year)

/3
You've read of three free articles this month. for unlimited online access. You've read of three free articles this month. for unlimited online access. This is your last free article this month. for unlimited online access. You've read all your free articles this month. for unlimited online access. You've read of three free articles this month. for more, or for unlimited online access. for two more free articles, or for unlimited online access.