I didn't love the idea of carrots being genetically modified for calcium but here's a good use of genetically modified yeast and e-coli (the friendlier kind). Scientists here in Silicon Valley have been researching the possibility of using modified yeast to produce (of all things) crude oil. Yes, it's true. Pretty soon, if things go well, one good alternative to high priced gasoline pumped out of Saudi Arabia is actually home grown, bacteria generated gasoline. Basically what happens is that the yeasts are put into a solution with it's food and it consumes the food, multiply and excrete waste. This waste is the petroleum and it floats to the top of the container that holds the yeast and thus can be easily siphoned out. The residue of the foodstuffs that were consumed by the yeast can then be used to power the fermentation plant. At the current rate and using Brazilian sugar cane as the food source the cost per barrel of oil comes out to be about $50. Expensive for a barrel of crude oil 2 years ago but way cheaper than the $135 per barrel and the constant record highs that oil has been hitting lately.
A company called LS9 is working on modifying the yeast and bacteria that convert basically garbage such as straw and wood chips into petroleum (or anything starchy). The really cool thing is that the yeasts just excrete the petroleum with very little need for further refinement to be used in our cars. Now, I'm all for solar energy and electric cars if they help reduce our dependence on foreign oil. But I have a difficult time imagining a way to easily bridge the gap between our high dependence on oil and having no or little dependence on oil. In my mind there needs to be something that allows us to move between energy resources. Maybe it's a little wind, a little hydropower, a little solar, a bit of nuclear and yes, a bit of petroleum. Maybe the answer to the world's energy problem is a mixed solution.
I think about the many problems with air pollution with virtually all automobiles and airplanes depending on gasoline and wonder if we just all switched to say hydrogen powered cars where the byproduct was water wouldn't our world be awfully humid instead of being polluted? And wouldn't that affect global warming too? In medicine, there is not just one answer for every person regardless of the diagnosis and I believe that it will be unlikely that there will be a one solution fits all for the energy concern as well.
So the main problem for LS9 is the amount of space needed for the yeasts to live while they are producing our petroleum. They calculate that to support the amount of oil Americans are currently consuming we need to have a space roughly the size of Chicago. Once they get that problem figured out they might just be onto something. Other people are also working on the petroleum problem and coming up with possibly viable answers for our future. Eventually perhaps the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge will be safe from salivating oil companies and our dependence on foreign oil will be reduced.