I’m watching this image on a computer screen at Amyris Biotechnologies in Emeryville, California, where one of the founders, biologist Jack Newman, is giving me a tour. The genetically manipulated E. coli before me are highly crafted units of industrial production, which Amyris is using to turn sugar into novel versions of gasoline, jet fuel and diesel—in other words, the fuels on which the world already runs. Amyris is one of a handful of young biofuel companies putting a brilliant and weird twist on the future of green.
I think this is a very interesting idea. I'm not sure if it'll work out in mass production, but certainly worth investigating.
I just have one question... what happens when (not if) these bugs get out into the wild? Are they going to get into our streams and lakes and start generating gasoline in the water? (This kind of thing is exactly what the book Zodiac is about - highly recommended, btw.)
We already have an organism that naturally makes oil from sunlight and carbon dioxide. It's called algae. It's already everywhere, so there's no additional environmental impact. I don't see how genetically engineering E. Coli to do the same thing is a significantly better idea. Except from a "we can patent it and make tons of money off royalties" perspective. Which I'm not sure is sustainable in the long term, given that algae exists.
Though I don't mean any of this to imply that there isn't an even better option...