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Synthetic Biology and Bioenergy
Origins of Life/Synthetic Biology
Led by Nobel Laureate, Hamilton O. Smith, MD, this Venter Institute team is concentrating on new methodologies to synthesize large segments of DNA to enable the construction of synthetic organisms. Through new insights into gene and genome function, researchers could one day more efficiently and safely develop chemicals, pharmaceuticals, textiles, and perhaps anything that currently uses hydrocarbons for production. Most genomes contain hundreds to thousands of genes necessary for adaptive living in complex environments. By synthesizing minimal genomes, the team believes it will be possible to construct simple cellular life with desirable synthetic properties for use in developing sources of energy as an alternative to burning fossil fuels.
Microbial Fuel Cells
One of the most exciting projects underway at the Venter Institute is the development of a microbial fuel cell that uses waste water as "fuel" to generate a small electrical charge and, through the combination of hydrogen and oxygen, produces clean water for human consumption. The fuel cell produced water can also be used for agricultural purposes. Venter Institute scientists have developed a working bench-top prototype in the lab. However, the challenge now is to refine and enhance the project in order to develop a field prototype that could be deployed to generate significant quantities of clean drinking water to areas where it is needed. The scientists believe that the electrical charge generated by a larger prototype will be sufficient to power a pump to keep waste water flowing into the "machine" such that a stream of fresh water will be generated continuously without requiring an external power source. Venter Institute scientists are also exploring whether microbial fuel cells might also be efficiently used to produce power or to pull carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.