The New York Times Magazine published a sweeping feature article on Wednesday on genomic genius Craig Venter, who is on a mission to create synthetic microbes to save the planet from climate change, pollution and resource constraints. The article reveals that through his startup Synthetic Genomics he and his team have reached a milestone: they’ve engineered their first algae strain that includes a portion of synthetic DNA. And it’s bright yellow.
Actually, the synthetic part of the algae is the insertion of the yellow color. Part of the reason they chose that synthetic color modification was just to choose something to tweak, and also to potentially enable the algae to have better access to sun light (in contrast to some of the dark algae strains grown in labs). Algae photosynthesize sunlight.
Synthetic Genomics could create algae strains that have been optimized to turn algae into biofuels. Venter doesn’t think that algae strains found in nature will ever be able to achieve the characteristics needed to scale and compete with oil. The future of algae biofuel will not come from nature, Venter has said before.
Synthetic Genomics plans to add other synthetic adjustments to the yellow algae strains and then test growing and maintaining them on a larger scale. The company has purchased an 81-acre bit of land next to the Salton Sea in southern California near a geothermal plant, reports the New York Times article. The site could tap into the carbon dioxide released in the geothermal energy process to feed the algae, and potentially within months, the algae could be “turning pollution into food and oil.”