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Thursday, 30 May, 2002, 15:29 GMT 16:29 UK
Venter tackles global warming
Craig Venter, BBC
Craig Venter: From genomes to global warming

Having sequenced the human genome, Craig Venter now has his sights set on another great scientific task: tackling global warming.

One of his post-genome aims is to scour the deep-ocean trenches to look for bacteria that could convert the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide into useful products like starches and sugars.

"We have explored less than 1% of the microbial universe," he told BBC News Online.

Because of this, he believes that it is highly likely that such useful micro-organisms can be found and is sponsoring deep-sea expeditions to look for them.

Dr Venter quit as boss of his genome cracking company, Celera Genomics, in January.

Celera is producing the privately funded version of the human genome - the biochemical instructions that cells use to build and maintain our bodies.

Somewhere out there

Speaking from new offices in Rockville, Maryland, Dr Craig Venter told BBC News Online of the ways he hopes biology can mitigate the influence humans appear to be having on the global climate.

The idea really hit home with him, he says, when he learnt that most of the atmosphere came about as a result of biological processes.

"But the idea became more tangible when he began sequencing the genetic code of micro-organisms," he quickly adds.

Microbe, BBC
Could microbes like this combat climate change?
"I seriously started thinking about it when we first sequenced the genetic code of the first Archea, Methanococcus. This was the third genome ever to be sequenced and the first representative of the Archea family of life."

Archea seem to be an ancient form of life - as different from bacteria as bacteria are from us. They inhabit the deepest parts of the Earth and ocean. They do not infect humans, making them safer to manipulate.

Remarkably, when Methanococcus was analysed, it was discovered that 60% of its genes were unknown to science.

"Methanococcus takes carbon dioxide from the environment and turns it into proteins, sugars and methane," Dr Venter said.

Venter hopes that somewhere out there could be another microbe similar to Metahnococcus that has just the right properties to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, thereby combating human-induced climate change.

The microbial universe

"We have explored less than 1% of the microbial universe. It is more than likely that there are organisms that can do this. So we should be out looking for them."

One expedition to look for these extremophiles, as they are termed, has just left the Galapagos Islands. It will probe deep-sea vents in the Pacific that are known to be home to hardy and unusual organisms.

"We hope to bring back some samples and hopefully culture new organisms," said Dr Venter.

"We are more than likely to find what we are looking for. This is basic research trying to solve a growing problem for society," he added.

The famous code cracker is tapping into a $100m research endowment he is creating from his stock holdings to fund his new projects.

See also:

30 May 00 | Human genome
22 Jan 02 | Science/Nature
19 Feb 00 | Science/Nature
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