I want to mention one more contestant in the iGEM competition. It is one of my own personal pick in this contest: the University of Wisconsin.
This team received a "bronze" medal for their work in bio-fuels. I have been following this group for some time now, and am a bit disappointed that
they didn't fair better, but they still have much to be proud of.
I think their ambition is quite profound:
I feel like there is a big misconception that some energy sources out there now, like corn, could be the answer to everything. But it's not the
answer. We need to find a way to be much more efficient making biofuels, and our team was trying to improve on that.
We're taking a different approach in that we're actually going to the waste material within plants. We're not taking food; we're taking things
that would have been discarded in the first place and trying to solve a way to make fuel out of that."
The goal is to take organic trash (not food), and turn it into high-grade fuel, suitable for running engines. Their basic approach was to engineer
bacteria that can decompose wood and other materials, create sugars, and use that to efficiently create ethanol.
Everyone talks about doing this type of stuff, but here we see these University of Wisconsin students are actually making it happen.
There are various beautiful aspects to project. This highly engineered bacteria replicates itself like crazy, yet has numerous safety features that
ensure it cannot operate in the environment unchecked.
Unfortunately, the team had a few setbacks. To be expected on a project like this, for sure. But it seems highly likely that they, or others will be
successful in the future.
I will conclude by saying this is field will have vast ramifications, beyond anything you expect. As the above link says, it seems a bit like a
science fiction story, but is completely upon us as a practical technology.
Currently, it is barely at the edge of our collective consciousness. However, I predict (along with many others) that this will be the principle
technology of our century. We will be hearing more about this for the remainders of our lives. I've enjoyed placing this into the ATS public record
and am sure that, even though I've received sparse comments from other members, it will become obvious that this thread was quite prescient!
As a last word, I think it is appropriate (this being a conspiracy website) to end with an ominous question about all this: If undergraduate students
can engineer new vaccines, brew better beer, create trash eating bacteria -- how difficult would it be for a fully equipped government laboratory to
create deadly disease, toxic germs that pollute our food supply, and bacteria that destroy our infrastructure completely?
I think it would be quite simple to induce fear in this technology, much the same as the fear associated with nuclear power, and drive this technology
into the shadows, where it exists only to harm and not benefit mankind. I hope that does not happen, but given the lack of awareness by the general
population regarding bio-engineering, the subject is agreeable to malicious manipulation on many different levels.
It is a possibility worthy of consideration, but hopefully not something that needs to be dwelled upon.