E.coli is often associated with food poisoning and sickness. An associate professor of computer science at Rutgers University in Camden, Desmond Lun, is trying to perform a computer simulation of how E.coli could be genetically modified to produce more fatty acids, and hence biodiesel.
“If we can engineer biological organisms to produce biodiesel fuels, we’ll have a new way of storing and using energy […] It’s widely acknowledged that making fuel out of food sources is not very sustainable. It’s too expensive and it competes with our food sources,” Lun says.
He calls this “synthetic biology”, and believes he has enough data on E.coli, over 60 years of expertise on it to know about how he could manipulate it. He also mentions that the intervention on the bacterium will not be a minor one, but something major, adding traits instead of modifying existing ones.
Lun explains, “The unique aspect of my work is this emphasis on computational modeling as a way of guiding it. Even these simple bacteria are immensely complex. Computational modeling can offer a way to speed up the process and make it a faster, better process.”
Modifying such a dangerous bacteria seems creepy, and I wouldn’t trust that anything of this kind will be able to produce my daily diesel, for example, and not cause damage to the ecosystem, eventually. Maybe it’s because I don’t really know how this bacterium works, but I suggest we’d rather try and develop more efficient solar and fuel cells instead of this. Period.