On Sunday, February 24, 2008, a Virgin Atlantic Boeing 747 flew 221 miles using biofuel in one engine. Over the next few months several additional commercial aircraft completed proof of concept flights using biofuels. The fuel was expensive (as much as $244 per gallon) and used a lot of coconuts, algae and babassu nuts as the production feedstock. The dream is cheaper low carbon petroleum to replace the current expensive nonrenewable petroleum. The thinking is that the best replacement for petroleum is petroleum (The corporate slogan of the biofuel company LS9). The promise of bioengineering is definitely science from the future. The early biofuels were produced using microbes found in the wild, now bioengineering is custom designing microbes by changing the DNA to achieve predefined specific results. The efficiency has increased and the costs are dropping. We are still in the infancy of bioengineering science and for now the promises exceed the reality. Genetically modified foods and genetically modified organisms are creating more scare tactics than benefits while the best money to be made in biofuels is by creating the propaganda against biofuels. Even at this early stage what can be imagined is stunning, magnificent, fearful and intimidating. Toxic waste dumps can be made to produce petroleum while generating electricity, medicines that make us immune to viruses, houses grown from a seed, thread stronger than a steel bar, cures for diabetes and cancer. As with all new science what can be imagined will only be exceeded by what actually is done, applications no one can imagine.
Some of the fears of bioengineering are justified, two examples of science gone wrong. Newton’s theory of gravity created the mathematics of ballistics that made army artillery lethal and the same mathematics allows us to maintain communication satellites in orbit. Einstein’s theories created nuclear weapons and laser bar codes. Knowledge doesn’t kill, people kill. Usually it is people using knowledge in the body politic that creates destruction. What can go wrong with intelligently designed life, what can the military do with a computer designed germ? In the future we will kill each other with green bullets and biodegradable land mines.
Human history would indicate that if we can do something we will. There is no international institution that can control scientific advances. The large corporations that will lose market value due to bioengineered products cannot stop bioengineering development. There is big money to be made in bioengineering and tomorrow's dawn can not be stopped or even slowed.