Environment

New research center dedicated in Emeryville

Sunday, December 07, 2008

To solve the world's energy and climate change crisis it will take a new generation of fuels.

To that end a new energy research center was dedicated in Emeryville Tuesday. It is a lab that hopes to grow its own ground-breaking research.

In a facility built for gene-splicing they held a ribbon-cutting Tuesday, a ribbon-cutting with expectations.

"We're going to be able to change the economy, change how we do energy, hopefully reverse global warming eventually," said Dr. Jay Keasling.

Dr. Keasling runs the joint Bioenergy Institute in Emeryville where four floors up from Tuesday's dedication ceremony, the actual practice of it by PhD's, staffers and graduate students like Eric Steen.

They manipulate genes hoping to create carbon-neutral biofuels.

"We want to take a lot of genes that are already out there and already have these known functions that produce the molecules, the fuel we're interested in," said Sheen.

They're doing it with $135 million in federal grants.

Hence, the presence of Energy Secretary Samual Bodman at the ribbon-cutting. The fact that he attended the ceremony surprised some people, considering the Bush Administration's record on oil consumption and climate change.

"The facts are that once you arrive at an answer, that we have I think, made a good-faith effort to try to deal with the results of that answer. The answer is that climate change is a real phenomenon," said Bowman.

The facility is state-of-the-art. One robot there does as much work in a half-hour as a person might in one day. Overall, it is as close to an energy Manhattan Project as we have.

Researchers have genetically altered the plants in a nursery there to create more sugars and break down more easily. They are the equivalent of mice in a lab.

Basically we can do up to four generations a year with these plants. Basically we can modify one after the other one almost four times in a year," said researcher Dr. Dominique Loqu.

The staff at the center even have a name for the process They call it "directed evolution."

Their self-imposed deadline is to develop a new generation of plant-generated fuels within five years.

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