November 18, 2006 | David F. Coppedge

Outsource Our Energy Woes to the Microbes

Do we need to dig for oil forever?  Do we need to fret and fume over energy policy as more consumers compete for decreasing resources?  What if there were a virtually inexhaustible supply right under our noses?  That’s what the American Society for Microbiology asked in a press release reproduced by EurekAlert.  “The answer to one of the world’s largest problems – the need for clean, renewable sources of energy – might just come from some of the world’s smallest inhabitants – bacteria,” it teased.  Why reinvent the wheel, when microbes already know how to get fuel from the sun and other readily-available resources?  Some day, the article continues, you may be shopping for some really cool gadgets for the home:

Imagine the future of energy.  The future might look like a new power plant on the edge of town – an inconspicuous bioreactor that takes in yard waste and locally-grown crops like corn and woodchips, and churns out electricity to area homes and businesses,” says Judy Wall of the University of Missouri – Columbia, one of the authors of the report.
    Or the future may take the form of a stylish-looking car that refills its tank at hydrogen stations.  “Maybe the future of energy looks like a device on the roof of your home – a small appliance, connected to the household electric system, that uses sunlight and water to produce the electricity that warms your home, cooks your food, powers your television and washes your clothes.  All these futuristic energy technologies may become reality some day, thanks to the work of the smallest living creatures on earth: microorganisms,” Wall says.

The study of microbial fuels is in its infancy, and current products are not yet cost-effective.  But the potential is enormous.  Microbes already know how to make “numerous fuels including ethanol, hydrogen, methane and butanol.”  They can also convert food sources directly into electricity.
    Farmers and gardeners can look forward to a bright future, too, once scientists learn the secrets of low-energy nitrogen fixation mastered by bacteria.  EurekAlert reported that scientists are making progress understanding how the amazing machines called nitrogenases work.  Dinitrogen molecules are the toughest nuts to crack because of their triple bonds.  Man’s method (the Haber process), used to make ammonia fertilizer, is costly and energy-intensive.  Somehow, nitrogenase splits these tightly-bound atoms apart with ease at room temperature.  If we can figure out how bacteria achieve this feat, and replicate it, the economic boom that might result – with benefits for solving world hunger – can only be imagined.
    By the way, when planning your future biotechnology home, with its termite air conditioning system (09/21/2004), don’t forget the worms (09/14/2004) for clean and efficient garbage disposal.  No worries; it will be a cinch to order whatever you need from your spinach cell phone (09/21/2004).

This is what science ought to be doing.  Millions of people are starving in Africa and Asia and South America under totalitarian governments or superstitious shamans, and all some American and European scientists can think about is how to fight creationism and push Darwin dogma down people’s parched throats.  Sir Francis Bacon envisioned a science that improved people’s lives.  To distinguish good science from bad science, he appealed to Jesus’ proverb, “By their fruits you shall know them.”  Solomon said, “Abundant food is in the fallow ground of the poor, but it is swept away by injustice” (Proverbs 13:23).  It’s time for some justice in modern science.  What has Darwinism brought us other than confusion (11/15/06), dogmatism (11/05/06) and genocide (11/30/2005)?
    If you are a researcher or scientist working on ethically-sound biotechnology or biomimetics, God bless you!  Inspire your students.  There are secrets in the living world that can meet some of the world’s most pressing physical needs if we will just learn about them and apply them.  We are poised with new technologies to make a huge difference.  Look what the Christian creationist George Washington Carver was able to accomplish, and that was over half a century ago, before computers and genomes and nanotechnology.  Where are the Carvers of the information and biotechnology age?  Abundant resources, like acres of diamonds, lie all around us.  Imagine culling bountiful crops of healthy food out of desert sand, or generating non-polluting fuels from sunlight and weeds.  Imagine new ways to fight pathogens with biological tricks, to desalinate oceans and purify scarce water supplies.  Apply your intelligent design to the intelligent design impressed in living things.  Let’s get science back on track and make a difference.  Our microbial servants are there to help.

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