Growing Energy? Craig Venter team advances synthetic biology and genome assembly

December 08 2008 / by Garry Golden
Category: Energy   Year: 2018   Rating: 1

JCVICraig Venter (of Human Genome fame) has a vision of future energy production that is very different from industry veterans.  He believes we can design microorganisms that can 'grow energy' by capturing carbon emissions from coal plants or converting sunlight and water into hydrogen. Venter believes in the molecular power of biology and recognizes that there are fewer ideas more powerful (and controversial) than human beings harnessing and improving upon biological systems.

What happened?
Researchers at JCVI, a not-for-profit genomic research organization, have published a paper describing a significant advance in genome assembly in which the team can now assemble the whole bacterial genome (582,970 base pair), Mycoplasma genitalium, in one step from 25 fragments of DNA adenine (A), guanine (G), cytosine (C) and thymine (T).

Why is this important to the future of energy?
Today we use naturally occuring species of algae that can 'eat carbon' to produce biofuels, or bacteria that take sunlight to effortlessly split water yielding hydrogen. These bioenergy solutions are in Pilot and First Stage of commercial energy production. 

But in the near future, we are likely to design our own microorganisms to be even more efficient at the molecular level.  We can create microbes with very specific functions related to the fixing of emissions or production of energy.  This Future of 'Synthetic biology' sounds strange and probably frightening, but it is also closer than most people might imagine.

What to watch - The Conversation over Synthetic Biology

Venter's company Synthetic Genomics Inc, which funded the research, wants to design microbes that have very specific purposes like carbon fixing and energy production.  They are one of a few companies (including LS9 and Solazyme) using synthetic biology principles to design microbes with specific bioenergy purposes.

We are still early days into the age of synthetic biology, but there are clear indicators to monitor that will help us develop more plausible scenarios of development.

But one thing is for certain - the conversation around synthetic biology will lag behind actual technological developments. 

The general public will probably be 'surprised' by synthetic biology.

“We continue to be amazed by the capacity of yeast to simultaneously take up so many DNA pieces and assemble them into genome-size molecules,” said lead author Dr. Gibson. “This capacity begs to be further explored and extended and will help accelerate progress in applications of synthetic genomics.”

Senior author Clyde Hutchison, Ph.D., added, “I am astounded by our team’s progress in assembling large DNA molecules. It remains to be seen how far we can push this yeast assembly platform but the team is hard at work exploring these methods as we work to boot up the synthetic chromosome.”


JCVI Image Credit


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Comment Thread (2 Responses)

  1. Actually it was about 9 month ago that Craig Venter claimed to be 18 month away from creating a life form that feeds on CO2 to produce fuel. So he has 9 month left. Talk is cheap.

    Posted by: johnfrink   December 09, 2008
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  2. John


    Yes, and that’s why I didn’t put any timelines or forecasts on it!!

    Venter is famous for saying ‘18 months’ away.. but he does hit some major breakthroughs… so I’m patient. 1 or 5 or 10 years doesn’t matter for me. Fine with a decades approach to synthetic biology!

    Yes, talk is cheap about synthetic bio, but algae biofuels from naturally occurring species is happening today. And that doesn’t require bio breakthroughs on the scale Venter is talking about! So I’m still optimistic…

    Posted by: Garry Golden   December 10, 2008
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