Will Propane-Making Bacteria Revolutionize Energy?

This article was originally posted on RealClearScience.

Propane is the fossil fuel of red-blooded Americans. What poolside or tailgating experience would be complete without firing up the gas grill and torching some meat? (I know, I know… there are charcoal devotees out there.) Even metropolitan mass transit systems are getting in on the excitement. Fleets of buses that run on “LPG” (liquefied petroleum gas) are burning a mixture of propane and butane.

Currently, propane is extracted from natural gas or crude oil. But, in the long run, this is neither a sustainable nor an environmentally friendly practice. Burning propane extracted from the earth is also not carbon-neutral, though it is better than combusting oil or coal. Thus, researchers are looking for ways to produce renewable “fossil fuels” through the use of alternative technologies, such as synthetic biology. Last year, for instance, scientists engineered E. coli to churn out a biofuel that resembled gasoline. Continue reading

Biotechnology: A New Opium Pipe

SYNTHETIC biology—the technique of moving genes from creature to creature not one at a time, but by the handful—promises much but has yet to deliver. Someone who believes it can, though, is Christina Smolke of Stanford University. And, as she and her colleagues write in Nature Chemical Biology, they think they now know one way that it might. Read the rest at The Economist.

New Test Could Eliminate Allergy Skin Pricks

This article was originally published on RealClearScience.

When I was a kid, I remember going to the allergist’s office and having him stick me in the back with several dozen tiny needles, each filled with a common allergen such as cat hair. After a few minutes, my back became itchy, and patterns of bright red bumps emerged like this, indicating an allergic reaction. My doctor, along with my parents, stood over my back, pointing at all the pretty colors. He informed us that I was mildly allergic to dogs and terribly allergic to cats, but not at all allergic to goats. (We ended up getting a dog, anyway, and I spent the next several years getting allergy shots, too.) Continue reading

Costco ‘Teaches the Controversy’ over GMOs

This article was originally posted on RealClearScience.

Admittedly, I’m not a big shopper. My wife, however, can spend hours in a single department store at the mall. One of her favorite places is Costco, a store that she might successfully drag me to once every five years. Somehow, she manages to go every week. If any of our neighbors ever runs out of cereal or toilet paper, we’ve definitely got them covered. Continue reading

The Lies that Whole Foods Tells

This article was originally posted on RealClearScience.

The organic food market is estimated at $63 billion globally, with more than half of those sales occuring in the United States. (If “natural products” are included, the organic market is $290 billion in the U.S. alone.) It’s no wonder, then, why Wal-Mart and other mainstream retailers are jumping onto the organic bandwagon. There is an awful lot of money to be made. Continue reading

The Scientifically Unengaged Drive Biotechnology Debates

This article was originally posted on RealClearScience.

A lot of ink has been spilled over who is responsible for the pervasive anti-scientific and technophobic attitudes held by the public. Conservatives blame liberals, liberals blame conservatives, and atheists blame anybody who believes in God. But a new review by Australian researchers Craig Cormick and Lygia Romanach in Trends in Biotechnology suggests the possibility of a completely different, and even counterintuitive, answer: The scientifically disinterested. Continue reading