30 June 2007

Employing bacteria to do our housecleaning

The NYTimes reported a really interesting breakthrough today:

"Scientists at the institute directed by J. Craig Venter, a pioneer in sequencing the human genome, are reporting that they have successfully transplanted the genome of one species of bacteria into another, an achievement they see as a major step toward creating synthetic forms of life....
[Dr. Venter's] goal is to make cells that might take carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and produce methane, used as a feedstock for other fuels. Such an achievement might reduce dependency on fossil fuels and strike a blow at global warming....
Booting up cells with new genomes is a major limitation in synthetic biology, Dr. Venter said. With that hurdle now crossed, it will be possible to 'design cells in future to manufacture new types of fuel and break our dependency on oil and do something about carbon dioxide going into the atmosphere.'"

This is really cool, sensationalist genetic engineering--but why are we going through the trouble to make bacteria that will do our greenhouse cleaning for us? Shouldn't we be doing it ourselves? Granted, we are trying--but it's always so much easier for us to devise some convenient way to make something else do the work.