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The problem isn't so much that the pure strain will survive - it is that these primitive organisms have very rapid interbreeding, and (depending on the species) may be able to perform lateral gene transfers. Which means that they have to die reasonably fast in order to prevent contamination of the local fauna with the modified gene sequences.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Wed Jul 28th, 2010 at 05:01:12 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Good point.  Wish there were a way to comment on this particular article -- and solicit responses from the experts cited in it!

Tout est pour le mieux dans le meilleur des mondes.
by marco on Wed Jul 28th, 2010 at 05:10:55 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Why would the experts respond?  Even in our home-grown example here (the new scientist wind article), the experts aren't responding to the comments.  Generally it seems that once an article is written, it is considered done and forgotten by the authors.  (except for putting on their publications list ;)
by njh on Fri Jul 30th, 2010 at 08:09:30 PM EST
[ Parent ]
We need to find ways to get them to respond.

The journalists, too.

At least, more often.

Needs to be more interactive, two-way, multi-way.

Tout est pour le mieux dans le meilleur des mondes.

by marco on Fri Jul 30th, 2010 at 11:55:25 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Absolutely. I wasn't thinking of the GreenGlob™ oozing across the landscape, but of the possibility of plasmid transmission to other organisms.
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Wed Jul 28th, 2010 at 05:27:12 AM EST
[ Parent ]
But if you're going to make a 50's B movie, GreenGlob™ is the thing for you.

By laying out pros and cons we risk inducing people to join the debate, and losing control of a process that only we fully understand. - Alan Greenspan
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Jul 28th, 2010 at 05:41:10 AM EST
[ Parent ]
That does not matter either - What they are attempting to do is to create an algae that expends a lot of its metabolic energy creating hydrocarbons for extraction for fuel - any wild micro organism that picks up that trait is going to be at exactly the same disadvantage as the original engineered algae, and promptly die outside the very carefully maintained production facility. The problem is that the conversion efficiency of sunlight to biomass via photosynthesis is in fact, well, eh, kind of awful. And since the yield of this setup is the metabolic surplus of the algae soup, not the total production, you loose a good bit of the already anemic output just maintaining your algae soup..
heck, I am reasonably sure that using high-grade photovoltaics or solar termal generators to produce electricity, and then converting that into liquid fuel (ammonia, or one of the other reasonably easily synthesized energy carriers) would in fact yield significantly more fuel per square meter of facility.. As in: orders of magnitude more.
by Thomas on Thu Jul 29th, 2010 at 07:21:38 PM EST
[ Parent ]
What they want to do and what they end up doing with their organisms are not precisely the same thing...

But of course the point of biofuels is not to tap into a source of sustainable energy with the least possible fuss and bother. The point of biofuels is to provide the illusion that we can keep running a society on internal combustion engines. There's a variety of reasons for people to like that idea, not the least of which being that a lot of people like (for reasons I do not quite understand) to cling to the delusion that the personal automobile is a viable form of mass transportation under a sustainable political economy.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Thu Jul 29th, 2010 at 07:33:48 PM EST
[ Parent ]
ehh.. but we can, technically, keep using combustion engines forever. A diesel engine will burn nearly anything liquid and flammable, and there are several fuels that can be synthesized with acceptable efficiency, so as long as the world can produce electricity, then combustion engines are an option. Now, economically, electric engines and batteries are quite likely to be about 3-4 times cheaper, but for applications where energy density is sufficiently important, "3-4 times more costly fuel than electricity" is still quite cheap.
by Thomas on Fri Jul 30th, 2010 at 12:35:24 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Expanding on this: Lets go with extreme pessimism about what is possible - The most widely synthesized chemical in the world is ammonia, which is a viable combustion engine fuel, even if it is rather less user friendly than gasoline. Further, let us assume that the only economically viable low-carbon power sources we are ever going to have are wind and nukes.
At five cents/kwh the cost of producing one metric tonne of ammonia via electrolysis is 6-800 dollars. This is not an unreasonable price to pay for the power density  
and note, since electrolysis can, in fact, be switched on and off at the drop of a hat, this could be night time surplus from nukes or the full output of a wind farm located in an optimally windy area specifically for this purpose so 5 cents/kwh is, in fact, a rather high estimate of actual cost, and cheaper electricity crashes the price hard. Dammit, now I am wondering why the farmers of the world arent already running their tractors off ammonia..
by Thomas on Fri Jul 30th, 2010 at 01:21:42 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Actually, there is a significant segment of the agriculture industry that does use ammonia as fuel. IIRC, this ammonia is make in Louisiana as a byproduct of the petrochemical industry and transported up the Mississippi for use in Iowa, etc. where there is farm equipment that can run on it. I also recall that the production of ammonia as fuel has been proposed as a use for "stranded wind".

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Sat Jul 31st, 2010 at 10:47:42 AM EST
[ Parent ]
What is the scope of sustainable use of liquid fuels?

Driving on a highway can be replaced by mass transportation or electric vehicles, so we're talking about off-road high-power vehicles: agricultural and construction machines, and military vehicles.

By laying out pros and cons we risk inducing people to join the debate, and losing control of a process that only we fully understand. - Alan Greenspan

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Jul 30th, 2010 at 02:18:14 AM EST
[ Parent ]
and due to the engineering difficulties of transoceanic high speed rail, aviation.
by Thomas on Fri Jul 30th, 2010 at 11:59:25 PM EST
[ Parent ]
LOL - blind spot!

We could always resurrect the Zeppelin.

In the 1930s, Zeppelins successfully competed with other means of transatlantic transport. ... [Least] importantly, the technology was potentially more energy-efficient than heavier-than-air designs. ...

Today, with large, fast, and more cost-efficient fixed-wing aircraft, it is unknown whether huge airships can operate profitably in regular passenger transport though, as energy costs rise, attention is once again returning to these lighter than air vessels as a viable alternative.



By laying out pros and cons we risk inducing people to join the debate, and losing control of a process that only we fully understand. - Alan Greenspan
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sat Jul 31st, 2010 at 04:23:40 AM EST
[ Parent ]
If your customers are willing to spend days making the crossing, you might as well operate nuclear-propulsion super liner ships. not much slower than a zep, safer, and much, much cheaper.
by Thomas on Sat Jul 31st, 2010 at 12:08:44 PM EST
[ Parent ]

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