Genomics guru and cleantech entrepreneur Craig Venter — whom the New York Times once referred to the Larry Ellison of the lab and the Richard Branson of biology — is a step closer to creating the first artificial life form, a breakthrough that could lead to, among other things, a new way to produce efficient synthetic biofuels. Researchers at the J. Craig Venter Institute say they have created a completely synthetic bacterial genome, which they claim is the largest man-made DNA structure ever.
The breakthrough could prove to be a big opportunity for Venter’s startup Synthetic Genomics, which is commercializing his research to create biofuels. Venter believes his synthetic versions will be far better — more energy efficient, hardy, and easier to blend into the existing fuel system — than traditional biofuels ethanol and butanol. A designer organism could be developed to only perform certain tasks, like converting sugar to ethanol, which would result in an extremely efficient process. Natural microbes have other life priorities, like replication, but a synthetic organism could be created to just perform one function.
On the press call, Venter, referring to the development of new organisms to efficiently create biofuels, said, “I am 100 percent certain this will be the process of choice.” He added:
“When you think of all the things that are made from oil and the chemical industry and the fuel industries — if in the future we could find cells to replace most if not all of these processes, the ideal way would be to do it by direct design.”
Venter stressed that while the breakthrough, which involved creating the synthetic genome of the bacterium Mycoplasma genitalium, is a step toward manufacturing a synthetic biofuel superbug, this specific bacterium will not be used for producing biofuel.
(Thanks to our own Craig Rubens for listening to the very long conference call.)