MAR 10

18 Months Until Custom-Made, Oil-Pooping Bacteria

Written by on March 10, 2008

Craig Venter has his own scientific institute. He led the private effort to sequence the human genome and was one of Time Magazine’s 2007 most important people. And he’s been building new life. He builds chromosomes from scratch, inserts the new chromosomes in bacteria, and then "boots up" the organisms.

The DNA he produces in his laboratory are the largest molecules ever created by people and he can individually determine what DNA to include and which to exclude. He can put in junk DNA that, when decoded, simply spells his own name, or is a poem. But, most importantly, he’s working to build in code that can force the little bugs into becoming solar-powered crude oil factories.

The new organisms, which Venter says should be multiplying in the lab in the next 18 months, would need high concentrations of CO2 (say, from the smokestack of a coal plant) to convert it to oil at maximum efficiencies. He can alter the octane of the fuel by altering the genes of the organism and, by selecting the best of thousands of molecules, he can "unnaturally select" the most efficient oil producers.

They’re calling it 4th generation biofuel, and you can expect that it will be only the first application of this fascinating and somewhat alarming new technology. You can hear Venter himself explain the possibilities of this new technology with Chris Anderson at the recent TED conference in the video above.



78 responses to “18 Months Until Custom-Made, Oil-Pooping Bacteria”

  1. custom digitizing
    Todd Venter has his own medical institution. He led the personal attempt to series the individual genome and was one of Time Magazine’s 2007 most essential individuals.The DNA he generates in his clinical are the biggest substances ever designed by individuals and he can independently figure out.most significantly wanting to develop in value that can power the little glitches into becoming solar-powered raw oil industries.They’re getting in touch with it 4th technological innovation biofuel, and you can anticipate that it will be only the first program of this amazing and somewhat escalating new technological innovation.

  2. Seven says:

    Fossil based fuel no, Hydrocarbon based
    Whether we like it or not we live in a Universe where neatly packaged high energy potential matter comes in the form of a hydrocarbon. Say what you like about hydrocarbons, but the bottom line is you can refine it into a neat liquid with amazing properties that is light, can be safely transported making it possible for the human race to be mobile an support an enormous global economy. Try that with pure hydrogen or nuclear based energy. And for those that think the electric car is the answer, take a look the environmental cost of those batteries you are hauling around. The current problem with hydrocarbon based energy is that we are pulling it out of the ground where it has been locked up for billions of years and letting its waste product be introduced into our thin ecology on the surface of this orb. That is bad. Any process that could absorb carbon (CO2 or other) and, using photosynthesis, make neat hydrocarbon based fuels is a win win for the global economy and for surface ecology. Maybe a sugar maple that drips light Texas crude?

  3. your average neighborhood stalker says:

    too long
    dude how long is this crap??? 18 min and 24.237 secs or sumthink?? he has such a monotonous voice… blahblahblah *is exasperated* 🙁

  4. Scott says:

    Endless Frustration With Contemporary Al
    Just want to vent a bit here.

    First…I’m getting sick of hearing about CO2 levels and greenhouse gas emissions. Nobody has yet explained to me how average Earth temps were lower in the geologic past when CO2 levels were higher.

    Second…if I could produce a zero-emmision, completely clean powerplant tomorrow that would use water to create far more efficient energy than anything we have, say a He3 fusion power plant, everyone “green” would throw me a parade. However, do you ever stop to think of the ramifications of what you so strongly desire? Taken to it’s logical extension, everyone producing highly efficient, extremely clean energy would…anyone…anyone…cause heat problems on this planet the likes of which we have never imagined.

    Third…lets assume you’re all right and we’re on the path to destruction. Which version of commerce is going to generate the necessary leaps in technology we need to sustain a growing population? In fact, please point to a better system than capitalism for generating new advances in high-technology. I’m not in the bucket for capitalism, but it seems to me that only a system that gives serious incentive to innovate can help us if you’re all right about the global environmental situation. I can’t think of another current or past economic system that would do it in time.

  5. dave Micro student says:

    Craig Venter Did not Produce the bug
    This is not a question of if the bug is out there, or weather it can be used as a fuel or to produce plastics. This article is about craig’s ongoing pursuit of “unlocking” as many genomes as he can. (They allready did the HUMAN Genome) He said that he will be able to alter the genes of the bug (which does allready exist) to produce a usefull hydrocarbon. He has spent millions of his own money in this pursuit. His along with the many other labs contributing to this type of reaserch are going to change the face of medicin and much more. I am not nessisarily saying we need to promote the continuing use of fossil fuels for cars, but there is so much more that comes from oil. Plastics that asphalt you drive on, propane gas, tires…. the list goes on. Oil is more valuable than gold.

    I would encourage people to pick up the latest magazine of Scientific American entitled “FUEL OR WATER” Nuclear power will solve many pollution problems and bring down the cost of electricity, however it will come at a huge cost of freshwater for cooling.

    What people can do now is Recycle their plastic, consider diesel vehicles (they produce more power and are more effecient Just drive one you maybe suprised) and conserve our freshwater.

    ** another note is that electric cars are not as clean as people think. The batteries are not a renewable resource and the electricity to charge it comes from a very high polluting power plant.
    🙁 nothing is free we have a long road ahead of us.

  6. Charles says:

    Can microbes produce oil?
    While microbes can produce a fuel in which subsititutes for oil in an organic chemical process, can it produce oil which is produced through an inorganic process or intense pressure and heat?

    Also, aren’t there alternatives to hydrocarbon fuels, such as nuclear and hydro-electric, the latter perhaps being the most practical form of renewable energy available today?

  7. Willy says:

    Great Idea but….
    will OPEC buy the patent of this discovery and bury it?

  8. mike says:

    CO2 is NOT a pollutant! It is a natural byproduct of LIFE. Plants need it to live and to generate O2!! If this process works, we have SOLVED our energy needs for the forseeable future. That means that the lifestyle we have now(the most advanced, healthiest, comfortable lifestyle in human history) can be passed on to our children and they can grow up in some cases to be spoilt hippy anarchists like some of the people posting here who wouldn’t know hard times or hard work if it jumped up and bit them in their lazy Berkley/AlGore-indocrinated ASSES!

  9. kbinla says:

    Any objections to these incredible science breakthroughs are based in religion and religion is the enemy of progress and scientific knowledge.

  10. Biggs says:

    i dont know what you guys are blathering about…. if these oil pooping bugs actually work, it will give the US some space so that they will be able to obliterate those camel humping desert dwellers and then move on to producing some cleaner form of fuel that will be able to power humanity’s expansion into the universe

  11. travis says:

    Simply amazing !

  12. MrJDL1971 says:

    What if they create a real life “I am Le
    What if they accidentally create a real life “I am Legend”? If they create a bacterium that uses sunlight, CO2, and/or landfill of garbage as “food”, how do they turn them off or prevent them from evolving from doing something other than designed?

  13. Craig says:

    Craig Venter is simply wrong, high concentrations of CO2 are not needed. As a scientist, he is typical in offering huge promises which is good for getting grant money and investment. This is research not technology. Research by it’s nature means you don’t really know if what you get will be successful enough to be practical. It might be decades or a century from now. Algae biodiesel is practical now. Vertigro’s system originally coming out of carbon sequestration research USES AIR is already in the process of learning how to scale up production. 20,000 – 100,000 gallons of fuel per acre versus 30-40 gallons per acre for corn. 10% of New Mexico could provide all the energy needs of the US using vertical closed-loop multi-algae systems. No GMO needed. No breakthroughs in molecular biology needed.

  14. gasman says:

    Dude, I just want cheap gasoline. And a environment where i can live without health problems.

  15. sighing at the world says:

    dudes, do some research. oil isn’t fossil fuel – seriously, look it up – there are some good articles out there.

  16. frisbee says:

    I don’t really understand Pirate Prentice what you mean by ‘the oil being produced by these bacteria is made from CO2 already in the air’. For C. Venters plan it’s being extracted from (fossil) power plant air. This means only if you burn coal, oil or gas. Thus it relies entirely on burning fossil fuels.

    Of course the idea is to reuse the CO2, but it ends up with all the CO2 going into our atmosphere and oceans. The only way not making this happen is to store all of the oil made with bacteria and sunlight for ever. Great! But will anybody be willing invest in that?

    Why not skip the burning of fossil fuels in the first place and make the change to alternative energy? I know it’s takes huge investments and some extra technological breakthroughs in the first place, but in the end we will be of with far less environmental damage, meaning that our future generations won’t need to pay for our quite insane way of living in luxury.

  17. Pirate Prentice says:

    This is actually a very good idea. Peoples’ instant reaction to oil is bad, but the oil being produced by these bacteria is [b]made from CO2 already in the air.[/b] It’s carbon-neutral. All the carbon that is released by burning the oil will simply replace the CO2 that it was made from.

  18. punk says:

    okay. wow. Every comment I read (except the ones telling James to stfu) is retarded.

    First of all, bioengineering is not going to create a bacteria that will mutate us all or destroy the world. You have been watching “I am Legend” too much.

    Also. What is the point of creating MORE oil when we have been trying for so long to find a fuel that will decrease dependency on it? Either way, emissions are not really decreased because you still have to BURN the oil to obtain usable energy. And as for imacyborg’s comment, way to jump from bacteria to dragons, genius. We still aren’t even capable of creating tissue from scratch. good job.

    Another thing: Using solar energy to make oil to get energy is ridiculously inefficient. First of all, the amount of energy we could obtain from, say, 10 square meters of solar panels at 100% efficiency-which is impossible-might power, say, five hairdryers. And using that energy to grow bacteria to make oil, which we then burn-again with very poor efficiency-to make our cars go is not an intelligent waste of resources.

    Even though we don’t know much about GMOs, they have the potential to be extremely helpful. It is not fair or at all intelligent to dismiss them because you associate them with, say, stem cell research. Being afraid of something because you don’t understand it, or because you’re biased is unbelievably stupid. Before you form an opinion, do some research, read some books, use your brain. If you can’t do that, you should not be entitled to voicing your opinion.

  19. Oscar Easler says:

    Dear, Dear James:

    Lets turn all the lights off. You tree-hugging types would have us living in caves if you could get away with it. You hate oil, bet you drive a car, ride a bus, or fly in a plane. Your hypocracy knows no bounds. MINDS THAT WON’T THINK ARE A WONDERFUL THING TO WASTE!!!

  20. i think that this is kind of a both ways thing,
    it’s giving us more oil, true, BUT it runs off of sinlight and CO2, which basically means that it will absorb some of the bad.


  21. Jim E says:

    GMOs in the wild
    Charles mentioned the possibility of this organism getting into the wild, but didn’t expand on that. One of the greatest potential problems with GMOs is that, like natural organisms, they tend to mutate in the environment. Nature has developed mechanisms for dealing with undesirable organisms, and that’s been going on for millions of years. Other organisms (like humans) have immune systems, for example.

    No one knows what mutations might occur with GMOs in the wild, or how people and other other living things will react to those GMO mutations.

    I suppose that one way to deal with that would be to build a solution into the GMO itself. For example, if these bacteria were built to only survive only in an environment of 50% or more of CO2, or at a temperature of 150F or more, then we wouldn’t need to worry as much about unintended consequences if they were accidentally released. If release did occur, they would die.

    Of course, even those traits are subject to mutation, but I think thatkind of built-in protection would make this kind of project more palatable to a lot of people.

  22. SteveOfOz says:

    Don’t plants already do this?
    I run my diesel engine (small modification required) car on vegetable oil
    I can turn the veggie oil into Biodiesel and use it in an unmodified diesel.
    It would be great if we could do this without taking food away from other people though.

  23. Tim says:

    C.E.O. of dissipating assets
    Maybe i’m ignorant but i’m trying to learn. Why do we need these GMO’s when natural biodegredation like that taking place in the swamp behind me creates methane that dissipates into the air as a greenhouse gas but is not collected and used as feul. any help here?

  24. ralph says:

    erm, arn’t we missing something here…
    this doesnt make much sense to me from an environmental point of view.
    the organism needs a high co2 concentration to make oil, i.e. from a coal power plant stack.
    hence, when the bio-oil is burned, the carbon from the coal plant goes up in the air. obviously its better than burning both the oil and the coal, but its still nowhere near carbon neutral.
    perhaps an organism that could reduce carbon already in the atmosphere would be more useful. but that would probably be technically more difficult, and i suspect that mr venter isnt particularly interested in making oil environmental at all, however he finds climate change a convienient bandwagon to sell his latest product off.

  25. frisbee says:

    most of oil use is for luxury
    Are we really so much dependent on oil? Most of it we only use for luxury. For holiday flights. For replacement of furniture that could last for another decade or so. For riding cars that extremely heavily outweigh ourselves. For producing, transporting, consuming and wasting enormous amounts of food.

    CO2 (and other greenhouse gasses) prove to be very poisonous to our climate. Remember, it’s the one and only climate we have (!) Now every bit of CO2 added to the atmosphere coming from a fossil source, will add to the already happening climate change. In my opinion we should use all our knowledge, skills, money and laws on reducing carbon emissions in order to reach a zero emission level the sooner the better.
    But how to achieve this?

    First: tax all fossil CO2. I know you hate taxes, same as me. But this is not an ordinary tax. It is on a highly poisonous matter that spoils our world and that of future generations! This administration will not cooperate. Hope next one will.

    Second: these taxes should help lower carbon emissions, by lowering our (carbon intensive) luxury spendings as well as by making carbon neutral alternatives economically viable.

    Third: every cent of this tax income should be spend on speeding up development of carbon neutral energy sources as well as on repairing the damage carbon-emissions already have created and will create in the future.

    The technique proposed by Venter will lower carbon emissions. But will it ever be carbon neutral? Only if fossil will not be the primary source of the carbon needed!
    His technique would depend on sunlight. Sounds like solar energy! Will these bacteria have a higher efficiency compared to the latest promising solar techniques? What size does such a factory need in order to absorb all CO2 of a fossil power plant? So, would it me more cost-effective than modern solar? Besides of that, solar doesn’t require any GMO’s.

    By the way, in the near future why would we still be needing oil as fuel? New battery- and quick charging techniques combined with large scale production and high (carbon taxed) gasoline prices will surely make EV’s the new standard!

  26. Simon Tannock says:

    Busy Man
    The interesting thing here is that the story suggests that C Venter is doing this and C Venter is doing that. What about some recognition to the people who are actually doing the lab(slog) work to make this happen. How much bench time does the Big Vent actually have in his timetable per day??

  27. ekstatek says:

    Not the only one tho
    There is atleast one other company doing a similar thing with algae not only does it use c02 but cleans wastes, thats right fill you car from your septic tank.

  28. Electron loving hippie says:

    cigarettes are healthy, everyone has the same immunity built up, and war is more important then space travel.

    I’m a hypocrite that worships technology and scorns it’s impact on the world around me. No matter how brilliant the mind or idea is, evil, like me, will find a better use for it. (like the atom bomb)

    Maybe, just maybe, the modern definition of intelligence is what’s flawed.

    At least I know I’m evil. 🙂 And I embrace it.

    God is in the tv. We don’t need oil, we don’t need most of the world around us, there are people wearing penis gourds and eating monkeys in south america that prove that one.

    The point is, we want it because we find it cool, like smoking, or meth… and one day, the masterful oblivion will be our end.

    Anybody got a light? I feel like a deep inhale of more stuff that’s bad for me. ooooh yeah. And the cancer forming will soon take over and destroy the world, but it’s been a fun ride.

    But, even I recognize that unless you stop embracing my bad habits you might parish with my ass in silicon valley.

    Anybody see the sterling machine power plants in California? damn them for slowing down my sweet sweet oblivion. And I hear it doesn’t use fossil fuel, the bastards.

  29. Phil says:

    Fuck eco-friendliness. Read up on Peak Oil. Without sustainable, realistic energy, we are on the verge of regressing to the stone age. A couple more years from now and we have an energy deficit, and shit is going to go downhill from there. We need this technology ASAP.

  30. DOS says:

    Give PIO an arm.

  31. rezwits says:

    WTF is this crap?
    Using an organism to produce fuel? Sounds like a very high bio-tech form of slavery. Life is Life… I have to be honest I hated Pete Venters 10 years ago when I heard about DNA and cloning… Manipulating the human genome is too radical of a thought I think. Changed my life a while ago drastically because of this crap… oh well, I’ll be dead before it could contaminate my life (maybe).

  32. Tom says:

    Bullshit, this guy is a media whore. He always makes claims like that but never delivers.

  33. Jonathan says:

    From here on every time I hear/read about a hippy telling someone else how they should be living, I’m going to go cut down a tree and take a big fat ecoli infected dump upstream from where your drug crazed camping parties…

    Maybe all you dope smoking hippies should cut out your weed habit. It takes petroleum to process and get that crap to market. Stop killing the environmnet
    you freaking stoners. (weed smoking also creates carbon monoxide when burned)

  34. Obvious Answer says:

    Isn’t it obvious why the hippies hate it
    CO2 is the boogie man for the “Climate Change” crowd. They were hoping to use this boogie man, and the seeming scarcity of oil to drive us back to the pre-industrial age. (Which is their ultimate goal).

    This invention can USE their boogie man for good, which they can’t tolerate. (Can you imagine Freddie Kruger working at the deli slicing meat with his glove?) Anything that USES CO2 deprives them of their stick. And, on top of that, it MAKES petroleum? Oh heavens! It could reduce the price of oil, by increasing the available supply.

    This just cannot happen!

  35. Amoeba says:

    Modify me!
    Sometimes I like to selectively breed myself with girls while covered in baby oil. Does this make me evil? Obviously.

  36. justin says:

    so why cant we have an almost autonomous mchine that uses the bacteria to make fuel using CO2…then burn that fuel in a self contained system…then pumps the CO2 right back into the bacteria…i bet that could definitly work…

  37. oscar says:

    can he make this bacteria crap lithium so can make cheap batteries to power cars, laptops, vibrators, etc.

  38. rmac says:

    will we really burn this oil
    Im a geologist/economist by profession & I think one of the things that should be pointed out here is that it will be unlikely that this bacteria will produce enough oil for use in cars. If you think $4 a gallon gas is expensive wait til you see what it would cost under this method.

    However, one of the major concerns for the future lack of oil has been/will be plastics. Some economists say that the global dependence on plastics far outweighs the global dependence on gasoline. This method could be very helpful for on that front.

  39. dbgarf says:

    the difference between engineers and pol
    the difference between engineers and political activists is that the former understands the way the [physical] world works and tries to create technology to change the way people live and the latter tries to impose ideology on people based on their own notions of how the world should work.

    some engineers are sorely lacking in the ethics department and create dangerous technology. some political activists are sorely lacking in the knowledge department and form ideologies that have no relationship with reality.

    if you are an engineer who does not consider the consequences of the technology you produce you have a problem. if you are a political activist who does not attempt to learn (at least at a broad level) what the engineers know you have a problem.

    there’s too much knee-jerk bullshit in this thread, and lets be honest, most of it is of the political activist variety. this a technology that really is potentially dangerous but also potentially extremely beneficial. if the politically minded folks in here were authentic people they would be asking the engineers what the risks are and what they are doing to contain those risks. they wouldn’t make assinine comments about meth addiction.

  40. blah says:

    Venter also has a history of delivering results in the face of opposition from people in his own field. ESTs and whole-genome shotgunning were derided as useless, but are now an integral part of genome research. He promised to deliver the human genome, which he did.

    There is no doubt that Venter is a) a huge jerk and b) interested in profits. There is also no doubt that when the guy says he can do something, he often does it… better and faster than everyone else.

  41. destroy says:

    scary stuff
    The immediate benefits are interesting. Oil for C02 sunlight. Great. But, what about these organisms. Can they replicate? Can they OVER replicate?

    What about the tech. Can someone use it to create the ultimate virus? Or accidentally create zombies, even?

  42. Wow says:

    If it’s true…
    This would be a welcomed addition to our energy needs.

  43. jeremy says:

    oh and let us not forget
    that we live in a capitalist world and they will charge us for this new and exciting technology. maybe we should let our selves run out of money i mean oil.

    It will be uncomfortable for a while, but most diets are.

  44. jeremy says:

    I can hardly wait
    until these oil shitting bacteria get out into the wild and shit the whole world full of oil. man if you think this place is polluted now just you wait.

    there will be meth (oil) enough for all of us, hell we may need to engineer ourselves a way to consume more oil.

    Oil=dead things rotting in the ground
    dead things=not life
    not life=not good

  45. Hugo says:

    it all sounds very nice
    we can all be very excited about this thing, but we don’t know anything about efficiency yet. The fact that the bacteria would require high concentrations of CO2 is a sign that efficiency is not that high at all. We might even have a more efficient energy source available in the form of simple 15% solar panels.

  46. Thomas says:

    Seems to me…
    That if you can engineer a bacterium that eats CO2 and shits crude oil, you MIGHT be able to engineer a bacterium that dissolves plastic into more environmentally-friendly components, easing the landfill problem. The only downside to that, of course, is if it escaped into the wild…could give the term “computer virus” a whole new meaning, as the plastic casing of your Dell melts away. There would have to be a built-in “kill-switch” or something. Damn, the whole world is turning into a low-budget sci-fi movie.

  47. Jay says:

    It’s not really Carbon Neutral
    I don’t think it should really be called Carbon Neutral since it’s using the CO2 output from a smoke stack. It would be neutral if it was pulling the CO2 out of the air but since it’s pulling it from a stack it’s just extracting more energy from the initial consumption of the carbon based fuel. For example, we couldn’t build a hundred new coal burning power plants that use this new technology without increasing the overall amount of CO2 placed into the environment. All we are doing is moving the CO2 output from the smoke stack into the tailpipe. We still increase the total CO2 output by roughly the same amount that the 100 new coal power plants would have output without this technology. However, by taking a second pass at the CO2 it would still be an improvement equal to taking however many vehicles off the road. Definitely an improvement in efficiency but we need to do better. There are non-carbon emitting alternatives like wind and hydro electric, the problem is they require a large up-front investment that a free market system is unwilling to make. Until the government is willing to step up and make it a public works project like they did in America’s Golden Age with the construction of Dams and highways we will continue to destroy the country we love. The free market system is a wonderful thing but it’s not an answer to everything. The government needs to step up to this challenge and move our country past this. It won’t happen with this administration, maybe the next one will have enough insight to do something.

  48. nick says:

    yes, oil sucks but
    we do things in baby steps. so imagine this if you will. we keep the engineered nano-oil generators and we only use them on power plants where they can be installed and create more oil for that company to run on and then we start using air cars. the oil burning generators would be using far less oil from outside sources. so economy would be less independent. the oil burnt but the plats would be turned back into oil and have less emissions – though of all the green house gases CO2 is the least threatening – water vapor is the worst. so it’s green, are cars could run on clean air from clean factories and we wouldn’t be as dependent on foreign countries for our fossil fuels.

  49. Genki says:

    Bacterial Turd Science
    Why doesn’t the prick turn his hand to making bacteriums shit something useful – like 98RON gasoline.

  50. Rick says:

    Oh and Pat, my nerve in shitting on the speculations of others is that I actually work in the field. I read the technical journals, and I’m not making speculations. I don’t drop credentials because it’s tacky.

  51. Eric says:

    Not gonna happen… least not as soo
    Don’t get too excited here guys, the chances that we will be able to use bacteria to produce fuel on an industrial level in the next decade are extremely remote. This is typical Venter self-aggrandizing.

    —–warning: rant below——–
    Venter has a history of claiming that he or his team have made some fantastic biotech advancement, completely ignoring the legions of biologists that provide the foundation for the minor extra step he takes. The extra step which he then, of course, tries to patent.

    This article talks about his private effort to sequence the human genome as if that was a good thing. If Venter had succeeded in beating the governmental/non-profit group to that goal, his plan was to then require licensing fees from anybody who wanted to use human sequence data.

    I can’t even begin to describe how insanely awful that would have been, not just because of the impediment to research, but because it is just plain wrong to say that somebody can own human genes.

    To put Venter’s money-thirst in a historical context for you molecular biologists out there, consider the fact that he tried to patent cDNA. Yes, as in any cDNA. Can you imagine trying to do your research if you had to pay a licensing fee every time you wanted to make cDNA? Think about that the next time you read about the oh so wonderful Craig Venter.

  52. Rick says:

    I agree that we should move away from oil as a primary fuel. That is the ideal.

    The reality is that every single car that runs on fossil fuels will need to be retrofitted or discarded in order to adopt a new fuel. Are you going to be the one to take the car away from the single mom that needs it to take her kids to the doctor? Are you going to be the one to buy her a new fuel-cell based car? Are you going to be the one to take cars away from every consumer in America? We all have stories like her, and families that depend on us. We’re not ready to fulfill your intellectual ideal of magically all moving over to clean fuel.

    Going green is a process. This allows us to safely make a transition to cleaner technology.

    Your thoughts that oil is like being meth addicted are quite ridiculous. I’ll agree that it is sub-par for our society to continue to blow up fossilized oceanic detritus in order to propel ourselves by the same basic gas laws that govern steam engines. But there is nothing inherently evil about using oil. In the reaction of hydrocarbons with oxygen, can you show me which part of the process evil enters?

    Under this type of scheme, we could be carbon neutral quite quickly. Perhaps I’m ignorant. Do you detractors propose a better solution? Ethanol has been debunked as a viable fuel source and hydrogen is still years and years away from being a viable solution. If you have some technology you’re holding on to, please, enlighten the rest of us. Until then, you’re just spouting rhetoric about being “addicted”. If not for this technology now, then what? We wait ten more years for a better technology, and continue to spew out CO2 because this technology isn’t good enough for your propaganda-laden ideals?

    The reason you should be happy about gaining an infinite supply of “meth” is quite simply: because your analogy is wrong. If this technology comes to fruition, in 18 months, we are gaining more time for the development of cleaner more efficient technologies, and potentially mitigating the horrendous outpour of greenhouse gasses. This isn’t a meth lab that continues to run. Petroleum is used to form the plastics that make your computers, it’s an incredibly important source of carbon for the drugs that heal the sick, it powers the tractors in the vegetable fields and the trucks that move that food to your local store. That is our addiction – we have an addiction to food, to good health, to comfortable living.

    So no, I don’t get your point about a meth supply becoming infinite. You want to make war on health, food and quality of life, be my guest.

  53. Mike says:

    Expansion of the same old infrastructure
    OK, supposing this predicted bacteria produces CO2 at a rate equal to how much it consumes. And production of this bacteria on mass scale is possible, then a change in travel infrastructure might not be necessary.

    Though this bacteria would have to be put in cities to prevent large increases in local air-pollution and thus more lung-disease, etc. As the infrastructure for fossil fuel burning vehicles continues, and as more and more people are driving in cities (particularly in America, where there is no real public transportation), and as populations continue to rise world-wide, this could possibly drive up net CO2 in the atmosphere, as a certain concentration of the greenhouse gas is required for the bacteria to be viable…

  54. woog says:

    Some of these comments are insanely dumb.

    The economy is going to collapse if we don’t have fuel. This is not debatable. It’s already started.

    Genetically modified organisms aren’t the devil. You’re discrediting your (our) side of the fence with your luddite insecurities. Like it or not, time and tech WILL march on. You can either be a part of the discussion or you can be sidelined.

  55. sugar man says:

    I think a society that used ATP as fuel would be cooler, he could make a cell to produce ATP from sunlight, wait a minute it’s already done as photosynthesis. Water CO2, and a little bit of lovin’ from the sun makes oxygen and sugar…. Ethanol is made from fermenting sugar… wait isn’t ethanol something we can use in our cars now? And Oxygen is something that makes my lungs happy… along with nitrogen and stuff.

    Hmm, but then we’d run the risk of too much oxygen and we’d all get really high and die.

    The material choices and energy concerns at the time of invention were clever but not wise.

    Always good to stay in the cycle of life, until someone figures out that the little bits of data that make up the planet are valuable enough that we should get some redundancy for it. But that would be I dunno, a good idea?

  56. durr says:

    to add up to that,

    when your drug adict friend runs out of ingredients that he needs to keep constructing meth in his lab, dont you get happy? why would you be happy if he found another way to make those ingredients infinite? do you get my point?

  57. durr says:

    capitalists though, are able to fuck up
    kinda agreed with james at the start…

    the good thing about running out of fossil fuels was that people would be forced to stop creating oil-based things, because it is only another step before creating even bigger plastic trash mountains.

    sriously, i have nothing against stoppoing greenhouse gases and reducing co2 levels, but if we keep on doing the kind of things that we do at the rate we are doing it, because of capitalists, we´re gonna crash even harder.

    dont come at me with “youre using a computer with plastic components”, i think that computers are not a waste. what is a huge waste is billions of plastic bottles being produced, billions of useless plastic things being produced for the sole reason that it makes it cheaper for capitalists.

    so basically, in a nutshell, this is a capitalist´s dream come true. the environment can stand their destruction for more time, more money for them, but then what? when will you start thinking about the long term effects of using things that you dont really need?

    isnt this dependency on plastic a little scary?

  58. Pat says:

    As pretty clueless folks who base our understanding of a complex new technology on a 4-paragraph blurb, I think the only thing we’re qualified to do here is discuss. I don’t know where some of you folks get the nerve to shit on others speculations with your own speculations.

    **Cue ‘no one cares’ with another “shut up hippie” gem**

    But that being said, I’m with Rick on the knee-jerk reaction to GMO’s, even though I don’t agree with some of your other comments. Bashing bioengineering is like bashing computer engineering. A criticism so sweeping and vague makes me think that not much effort has gone into understanding it, since it’s a process that can be used for good or bad.

  59. Rick says:

    I see so much pigheaded ignorance in the comments on this thread.

    James, this is an environmentalists dream come true. In this scheme, carbon dioxide sequestered from the environment is used to make an eventual oil product. That oil product when burned re-releases CO2 into the environment. Since no process is 100% efficient, the oil producing bioreactors must require more environmental CO2 than is released by burning. Assuming no fossil fuels are needed to keep the reactor running, it is thus carbon neutral, if not carbon negative. The only reason you would hate that is a knee-jerk reaction to all things related to the word oil.

    Same goes for GMOs. Whether you like it or not, genetic modification is taking place. It’s no different from building organic molecules with chemistry, no different than building machines from metals. It’s a new technology in a new medium, that has both risks and rewards. Yes, we polluted the world with machines, yes we polluted the world with chemicals, but we’ve made plants grow in deserts to feed the starving, we’ve made chemicals that cure the sick. If you have such a problem with technology, ask yourself why you’re using a computer, largely composed of oil products and consuming electricity.

    Your knee jerk reaction to the word GMO is firmly rooted in ignorance. Take a biology course and step away from the propaganda. Please.

  60. john says:

    better yet…
    bacteria that we can ride to work… or, shit, bacteria that do our jobs… fuck that.. big delicious pepperoni-flavored bacteria!

  61. Joe says:

    Sounds familiar
    Maybe he should call it- OILIX

  62. Some Guy says:


    you are a blithering idiot. Just thought you might not already know that.

  63. Daniel says:

    why oil?
    why not just cut the middle man (oil) and just make bacteria that makes electricity. this way we don’t get carbon monoxide as a bi-product. and they also have algae that makes hydrogen even tho hydrogen is extremely stupid as a fuel in cars (explosive – do you wanna have a crash in a hydrogen car?) it would be great for power plants and just use a fly wheel or batteries in the cars which are alot safer than hydrogen

  64. G$ says:

    …zero emissions until the byproduct is consumed, by a less-than-biologically-aided process, such as internal combustion. =) Definitely a step in the right direction. On one hand, I think the “evil mastermind” possibility could be taken a bit more seriously; on the other, I doubt its possible to prevent a new process or technology from being used nefariously. eg: If the fathers of computer programming had been able to understand the practical (and in recent cases, political) potential of a computer virus, would they have given pause before developing a structured language that could yield it? Perhaps more importantly, [i]should they[/i] have paused?


  65. jas says:

    fun fun fun
    as much of a great idea this could be, its also a little worrysome… hope he doesnt fuck up and create a nice bacteria that wipes out the planet. bioengineering is a bitch.

  66. Olivier says:

    This is actually somewhat eco-friendly
    If you think about it, while oil consumption is not the most ecologically friendly form of energy, what is currently equally polluting is the oil mining process. If this can result is similar oil consumption with no need to mine oil and destroy entire exosystems (see Alberta, Canada for example), then it solves half the problem.

  67. tim says:

    @no one cares

    dude. that was funny. new keyboard funny.
    thanks. 🙂

  68. iamacyborg says:

    Bioengineer me a pet dragon, fucker. Then I will be impressed.

  69. obvious answer says:

    What makes him thinks anyone wants this?
    1) it gets rid of co2
    2) it makes oil

    What a dumb question.

  70. Tim says:

    Holy Crap
    This man deserves every penny he will earn. He uses the suns power to make more crude for everyone, and it can use the CO2 created from power plants or whatever combustion that produces CO2. Basically these little guys would be little solar power plants. Using the sun (maybe) more efficiently than we can with current solar power tech, and it may be able to cut down greenhouse gas emissions from already in place structures that are not likely to change. Wonderful Idea, I am a chem major and I think this guy is onto something wonderful.

  71. ben says:

    CO2 output from burned bacteria made oil = CO2 absorbed from the atmosphere by bacteria

    net change in CO2 concentration = 0 !

  72. J says:

    Organisms that consume CO2 and then make oil which then produces C02 sound better than just pulling oil from the ground to produce CO2 imo….

    Lol someone who is Afraid of GMOs. Roflcopter.

  73. blah says:

    Except that when the oil gets burned the CO2 ends up as greenhouse gas anyway… or it gets turned into plastic that pollutes the oceans and kills marine life. Hot damn.

  74. Ean says:

    James, at first i agreed with you, why can’t the organisms create some enviromentally friendly fuel?? But this oil is created from the CO2, so basically the energy of the sun turns the waste back into fuel, making this process basically zero emissions…

  75. EV says:

    James, Then get rid of your computer and stop eating. Your computer has plastic in it which is made from oil. Your food has been continuously selectively bred over the past few thousand years for desirable qualities.

  76. Ivan Hajnal says:

    Ok, guys, if I recall this right he didn’t say they’d have an oil pooping bacterium in 18 months, but rather the first synthetic self-replicating cell, based on Mycoplasma genitalium essential genes. This in turn could lead to oil pooping photoautotrophic “GMOs”… well basically not modified organisms, but synthetic modified organisms… SMOs *gg*
    and the work is actually pointed towards answering what the minimal requirements are for a self-replicating cell…

  77. no one cares says:

    shut up hippy

  78. James says:

    Worst thing ever. What makes him think anyone wants this? Oil and GMOs. Two of my least favorite things in one. He should be charged with crimes against nature and humanity.