Could Synthetic Biology Stop Global Warming?
Support for this podcast and the following message from discover with the discovery miles card they automatically matched the miles you earn at the end of your first year. Discover it miles limitations apply discover match for new card members only learn more at discover dot dot com slash travel if you're like me. There's a certain kind of headline that keeps you up at night ice covering the ground in Mexico during the summer rick hailstorm for Freakish hailstorm the freakish weather temperatures were in the eighties just us before the city got buried in the story of the Free Kale storming. Why that is the most recent story giving me the creeps but really any story that's potentially linked to climate change launches me into a spiral of despair gray? Whales are dying this year at least twenty five hungry polar bears and their cubs rummaging through a landfill Poland and the Czech Republic have already recorded their highest June temperatures ever. It's actually impossible to link any single weather event solely to global warming but but we do know is that climate change exacerbates natural disasters like hurricanes or wildfires and that is scary okay. It's really scary but it turns out. I'm not alone in being stressed out about climate change in two thousand seventeen study out-of-jail showed that he knows in the U._S.. are quote much more engaged with the issue of global warming. The non nuttiness seven out of ten at the nose believe global warming is caused by humans and fifty eighty percent believe they are currently being impacted by it so if you're a fellow freaked out let the no you're probably also desperate for information about what can be done or what is being done to curb carbon emission and even potentially reverse global warming and that's how I came across the work of <unk> Garcia Madden stuff scientist Berkeley national lab also the lead for quantitative metabolic modeling the Joint Energy Institute the Vice President for Biofuel some biproduct product. If somebody at a party asks you what you do. What do you say? I'm a scientist working on synthetic biology from N._p._R.. And food on media it's that you know U._S._A.. I'm Anthony City he the information and today the potential world changing scientific field of synthetic biology synthetic thank biology is a burgeoning field and because it's a whole entire field it's pretty hard to sum up in just one sentence but here is my stride in the same way that computer scientists right code to build what we see on the Internet synthetic biologists right right using D._N._A.. To create new biological structures essentially designing D._N._A.. To make living things act the way we want them to for example. We take something like yeast unused. Those you know produces beer with alcohol in beer. What do we do is we chance DNA in the cell so instead of producing alcohol in the beer produced feels for example and it's an exciting field for people who suffer from climate change anxiety because one of the major implications is that it could create new biofuels that would free free us from our dependence on fossil fuels and other fuels that released carbon dioxide into the atmosphere which is the main cause of global warming but despite it's amazing potential to basically save the world they're also some pretty scary the implications of what the science could mean and so I talked to daughter who not only studies the science but is working specifically on trying to predict what changing D._N._A.? Could mean to ecosystems about what the sciences and what it could mean for our future. Let's jump right in okay. What's the range of applications that synthetic biology could have that is now? A lot of products. Don't <hes> through synthetic biology. There is a synthetic leather renewable biofuels combat climate change. There are vegetarian burgers. The impossible Burger is an example. It's called the Veggie Burger that the leads yes so the Buffalo Burger doesn't have any meat whatever and what they did is. They took the him from plant. From East Coast remember and use that to produce the same flavors of glad that flavor of blood is enough to make it tastes like me. I didn't realize those blood flavored. That's so criticize yes he means what is implied that actually attached to the oxygen and makes it tasted the way taste okay so I learned about Oh you in an article about termites. Yeah people are really rushing to determine what can scientists learn from termites. Termites are very efficient eating would right there are able to take the whole house and blow it into C._O.. Two in no time the recent they can do that because they have in the guts they have microbial communities that are very efficient at eighteen so we were figuring out where the enzymes in that micro community that would eat that would and we will using those enzymes instead of proficiency due to use carbon sources we convert into biofuels so we're saying is that termites can convert plant matter into energy and you want to figure out how to replicate termite digestion so that US humans can also do the same thing and create biofuels. Uh Well in principle you could do almost anything right so if you are able to take the and program into the what he wanted to you could program plants to produce the products you wanted to create. Did you could change you microbiome so you could improve Uram athletic efficiency for example. You can create biofuels that are renewable and produce no C._O.. Do they are carbon neutral and they don't put you in the atmosphere but what is interesting but this is the the possibilities if you can actually engineer a living bean to a specification there's really very few limits and in a sense you know. Synthetic biology is kind of fashion now. There is a lot of people in the tech field were looking investing synthetic biology because they see it as revolutionary technology that can have the same kind of exponential growth that we have for several decades. There was a video jio. That's sort of explains it that showed like one way of thinking about it is now we build buildings <hes> with synthetic biology because like grow buildings imagine modifying the D._N._A.. Code of plans to grow living buildings. We can revolutionize construction and architecture and gardening creating entire cities of living organic material so that's <hes>. It's still very far away but it's not impossible. It's not going to happen in the next five years but it's not impossible so this is still a lot. We need to learn to that could synthetic biology. Stop climate change well. This is what we've been working on for twelve years already taking the suit of an atmosphere is fear we use it grow plants genetically modified and then we deconstruct those plants with something liquids an enzyme that make into sugars then we feed those sugars into cells that make an into biofuels and once you burn those those biofuels issue to the comes out of that is the sensitive to that the plant used in the first moment to actually grow up okay so what you're saying that you took carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to create plants which become biofuels so when they burn they you don't put more C._O.. Two into the atmosphere they're just putting back what they took out so basically creating something. That's carbon-neutral yes. It's almost funeral yeah fuel that there but the amount of through that comes out is the same that came in so it's almost cover neutral and that exists. I keep coming back to this but I'm like that exists today the ability to create biofuels that are carbon-neutral. Yes and we've been producing them for twelve years. It's crazy me that like George Clooney isn't taking biofuel flights is not you know if you're clooney was doing that. He'll have to pay like a hundred times more for his <hes> ticket. What is he doing all those next cafe commercials for yeah? I don't know Antonio Everyone. You want me I can give him a call later and ask him the problem. Is that there too expensive right. We I started making a gallon of biofuel. Where's around three hundred and fifty thousand dollars which was definitely not competitive now? After ten years of work we were able to make an thirty five dollars a gal which is much much better than three hundred and fifty thousand but it's still not competitive because you expect bear on four dollars so for your gallon fuel right now. We've been funded for another five years to bring that thirty five dollars per gallon two around forgotten or even two point five dollars per gallon in terms of the science of how this works. It's only possible because of crisper which is a new kind of engineering that gives scientists departure basically edit D._N._a.. Like fixing in genetic defects or modifying plans to create biofuel and that really has revolutionized the way that we do synthetic biology so for the first time we can really right that DNA very effective way. It's like we have word processor for D._N._A.. And every day it's getting easier right. Yes <hes> there is a significant amount of researchers and amount of investment but the main that we have is that now we can modify DNA quite effectively we know how to modified and we know how to synthesize it but we can predict what the changes going to do and that's where people like me and my group come in where we're trying to use things like machine learning artificial intelligence to try to predict how those changes in the are going to change the behavior of the cell Ooh so what are some of a negative consequences of synthetic biology well once you start changing organism biology biological beings. There's danger that those changes will have an impact in the ecosystem that they're in right. You may have heard of gene drives for example gene drives for mosquitoes are waste of changing mosquitoes so you can make a whole species of mosquitoes disappeared and they've doing this with danger mosquitoes and principal. This is great because you're gonNA have ding anymore someplace in Brazil zillow but those are mosquitoes may have impacting the ecosystem. There is really hard to foresee so those are things that that could happen and I think it's something that society at large should be aware of another potential implication of synthetic bio is bioterrorism bioterrorism. Can you explain what that is margin that you could actually modify their crops of another country so they don't have optimal yields or or the die early or or the transmitter disease those things thanks good principal be possible right so there's a lot of people thinking of that right. Now you know this is something that is starting to explore and you know right now. One of the main bronze that we have is that if there was someone else enemy me trying to actually use synthetic biology to change something Erica system we wouldn't be able to detect it and that is the first move in trying to figure out how tackle bioterrorism a couple of weeks ago the New York Times came out with an article about how the single most carbon using activity of human can do is take a flight. They cited that one flight from New York to Los Angeles was thirty two square feet of ice melting being in one flight the that was the first time that it really hit me like you know flying is bad for the environment but when you think of thirty two square feet that's per flight. That's crazy. There's so many flights in one day and it's increasing it goes now. Everyone flies is all the time and we're having more locust flights and it's happening more and more and all of the developing countries are getting into the strength and having more more flight so it is only going to get worse right. I mean this is what leads into my sense of anxiety. It's like I just imagine things like multiplying multiplying into like how many different flights are happening right now. The trajectory which things are going you have to who think a lot about renewable energy. Do you have anxiety well this is this is the new fight right. I've been here doing this for twelve years. I remember this study with the Bush administration and then the Obama Administration really pushed it up how we started to see some political measures. There were actually making a difference there. Neil few stunned ours. On a few of the things you know a carbon dioxide in some places that we're actually going to make a difference and then the new government the trump administration came up and they didn't have a lot of interest in climate change now thankfully the Senate and the House did have an interesting climate change change and we're still working on it but is I think the last three years have had the top temperatures in history. I think Tom Point these will become obvious in the same way that it took a long time. You know for people to realize that smoking is bad even though he was obvious obvious but eventually it'll happen is that I don't know how much more time we have. It's disheartening but you have to take it as it is and then work every day to police better technology that will lower the prize they will make it easier for government to actually acknowledged the problem and do something using renewable biofuels systematic scalable way okay so where where do you see the future of synthetic biology you know there's potential for bioterrorism but there's the potential to eliminate all of the plastics from the ocean and there's potential to the stop climate change and the thing is it's our choice right is if we don't care if we should split his don care you know is going to be bad if we do care if you put our hands into it we make decisions. We have the right people making the right decision. We choose them wisely then. It's going to be good yeah and I think one of the main things that I've taken away from our conversation is that it's like an existential problem the climate change problem. It feels like there's nothing that can really be done about it in a way but the research that your team is doing at the lab lab feels like there is a sort of other opening that isn't talked about enough who oh yeah yeah I mean individuals can make a difference that is not comparable to what the government of the world united can actually do and the good news. Is that the U._S.. This government has been doing this for twelve years in and they are whole programs and hold parts of the energy and the official science whose job is to actually do this so the years of the government are already motion now how can consumer you help that happen and the consumer and individual roll along with the government role and planetary level that can make the difference so learn about it and learn how to make it. It's doable is not just on you. Only there's governments was jobs to do this things. Thanks and they're doing it dean. Thank you so much being on the U._S._A.. Pleasure thank you very much is a scientist at the Joint Bio Energy Institute where he works on bioengineering cells to produce biofuels and other renewable products in this episode was produced by freeling and edited by committing to let you know U._S._A.. Team includes yes so yet by car Jesse MOCHA and Syracuse with with help this week from Jimmy Montage Walk our engineers are Stephanie Lebow and Julia Caruso our production manager is not that New York women's foundation ignite fellow was just on wedding. Our interests are Lucas others and Jonathan Goatman our theme music was composed by Senate arenas if you you liked music you heard on this episode. Stop by letting U._S._A.. Dot O._R._G.. And check out our weekly spotify playlist our executive producer is many. I'm your host this week Anthony yesterday he joins again next time in the meantime you can find us on social media. Yours Latino U._S._A.. 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