Science Fiction? or Scientific Answers to Global Warming

Submitted by Jerry Halberstadt on Fri, 06/29/2007 - 21:11

Today the most pressing problems for humankind include global warming and pollution. Our political systems do not seem robust enough to respond to the impending disasters heralded by climate change.

But scientists, including a group working with Craig Venter on creating a designer bacteria capable of producing a new type of fuel, may change the options.

Science fiction projects the problems of today into a distant place and time. Some stories emphasize the possible terrible outcomes of trends of the present. Others project a clever solution. Fantasies, yes. But some fantasies have become realities. Once the subject of myth and fantasy, now in fact people have walked on the moon and go into space almost routinely. What is the future for global warming?

Craig Venter, a leader in genomics research (genomics lists all the genes of an organism), looks forward to designing bacteria that can be used to generate new energy sources and reduce climate change. Scientists at the J. Craig Venter Institute have published a report on melding two bacteria: replacing the genome of one bacteria with that of another. This is one of a projected decade-long series of steps leading to the ability to design a synthetic bacteria. Venter is quoted as saying "We are committed to this research as we believe that synthetic genomics holds great promise in helping to solve issues like climate change and in developing new sources of energy.” Researchers are looking for ways to reduce fossil fuel consumption and " eliminate carbon dioxide output into the environment and if possible capture back some of the carbon dioxide associated with global warming."

Colonies of the transformed Mycoplasma mycoides bacterium. Image Credit: J. Craig Venter Institute

Carole Lartigue, et al: "Genome Transplantation in Bacteria: Changing One Species to Another" Published Online Science June 28, 2007, DOI: 10.1126/science.316.5833.1827a

Since we are possibly a decade or more away from the success of Venter's vision, we ought to keep trying to do more at the local and national level. And while the United States landed a man on the moon within a decade of deciding to do so, even when the governmental and social goals are clearly articulated, nature does not always respond to our wishes. We are, despite many advances, still struggling in the "war on cancer." And the nation has not yet taken global warming seriously. Let's wish Venter luck, but let's do something, too.

Global warming at the local level: