Researchers at Synthetic Genomics claim that they have genetically altered bacteria to rapidly build lipids from just carbon dioxide and water. Lipids come in a range of forms and serve many functions in cells such as storing energy and forming membranes. The Synthetic Genomics bacteria secrete the lipids which can be used directly in oil refineries.

Other researchers working on using bacteria to make fuels feed the bacteria with sugars to produce diesel rather than manufacturing the fuel directly from carbon dioxide and water.

Synthetic Genomics was founded by Craig Venter in 2005. The company is seeking the capital to move forward. “We’re ready to build a pilot plant right now,” according to Venter.

Craig Venter became famous as the founder of Calera Genomics which set out to sequence the human genome for commercial purposes in competition with the open source Human Genome Project.  Both projects announced success at the same time in 2001 but Calera failed financially because of the genetics community’s objections to paying its royalties.

Venter then set up the J Craig Venter Institute and announced plans to synthesise an entire genome and create a new species. While he hasn’t yet achieved this goal, he has achieved some major milestones including synthesizing large chunks of DNA and performing the world’s first “genome transplant” on a microbe.