Stories tagged bioenergy


Synthetic biology pioneer, Andrew Hessel, explains how building blocks of DNA snippets will be assembled into customized living organisms


Medicine without patents

Andrew Hessel hopes that an open source approach in pharmacology will produce safe, effective, and individually personalized medicines quickly and inexpensively. Hessel likens the exponential advances in synthetic biology to the boom in the electronics industry.

Test tube sized factories

One big difference, though, is that biological manufacuring does not require expensive refining, huge factories, or expensive tools. Biological organisms are alive and can self assemble complex structures from basic ingredients.

Foundational work, including the standardization of DNA-encoded parts and devices, enables them to be combined to create programs to control cells.

  • Cells are being engineered to consume agricultural products and produce liquid fuels.
  • Bacteria and yeast can be re-engineered for the low cost production of drugs. (Artemisinin, Lipitor)
  • Bacteria and T-cells can be rewired to circulate in the body and identify and treat diseased cells and tissues.

DIY BIO 4 Beginners

Eric Fernandez has a blog for do-it-yourself types like 23-year-old Kay Aull who set up a do it yourself DNA lab for genotyping her GFE gene in her closet! Be sure to check the archives for more than a hundred informative DIY Bio posts like this one by Make's, Mac Cowell.

Gene hacking and biofabs

Costs are coming down fast and genetic synthesis or gene fabrication is a cottage industry. Biofabs like GeneArt, Blue Heron, DNA2.0, and Codon Devices can deliver a synthesized product from an e-mailed description almost over night. Synthetic biologists envision writing the DNA code for such products the way computer programmers write software.

Catolog for genetic parts

Genetic programming now has several well developed languages allowing large data bases of biological modules.

The Registry of Standard Biological Parts is a continuously growing collection of genetic parts that can be mixed and matched to build synthetic biology devices and systems. Founded in 2003 at MIT, the Registry is part of the Synthetic Biology community's efforts to make biology easier to engineer. It provides a resource of available genetic parts to iGEM teams and academic labs.

iGEM synthetic biology contest for students

The International Genetically Engineered Machine competition (iGEM) is the premiere undergraduate Synthetic Biology competition. Teams participating and over 1200 participants will all specify, design, build, and test simple biological systems made from standard, interchangeable biological parts. If you go to this iGEM results page you will find video links for the winning presentations. You can read team abstracts of the iGEM projects here.


Large scale study shows 540% net energy gain when ethanol is produced from switchgrass

Panicum Vergatum: Switchgrass
Panicum Vergatum: SwitchgrassCourtesy U S Govt

Kenneth Vogel, a geneticist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Lincoln, Nebraska, and his colleagues, found that ethanol produced from switchgrass yields 540% of the energy used to grow, harvest, and process it into ethanol.

Their results, published online in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, shows that switchgrass, farmed using conventional agricultural practices on less-than-prime cropland yields only slightly less ethanol per hectare on average than corn.

Farmers planted switchgrass on 10 farms, each of which was between 3 and 9 hectares. They then tracked the inputs they used--diesel for farm equipment and transporting the harvested grasses, for example--as well as the amount of grass they raised over a 5-year period. ScienceNOW Daily News

Switchgrass monoculture or mixed prairie grasses?

Anyone remember our Buzz post "Chalk one up for diversity"? David Tilman in that post is quoted saying, "diverse prairie grasslands are 240 percent more productive than grasslands with a single prairie species"
Now I read:

... Vogel says, is that yields on farms using fertilizer and other inputs, such as herbicides and diesel fuel for farm machinery, were as much as six times higher than yields on farms that used little or no fertilizer, herbicides, or other inputs to grow a mixture of native prairie grasses. ScienceNOW Daily News

Who is right? Can anyone explain why two reputable researchers are getting such different results?