Bob Park does algae/biofuel on 23 July 2010
It's not like harvesting corn once a year; algae gives you a new crop every day. The first step is to find the ideal oil-producing strain. Natural selection doesn't have much to do with making oil, so a lot of work is going into genetic modification. This is not a hard sell in the US, where genetically modified corn has been used for 15 years, and almost all tomatoes are GM. In Europe. however, where a 2001 directive gave EU-wide approval for farmers to cultivate GM crops deemed safe, but frequent claims of new evidence of danger has prevented a single GM food crop from being approved. For algae grown in open ponds, it would be impossible to prevent GM strains from escaping.
From Pollack's piece in the New York Times on July 26, 2010:
Instead of using open ponds, some companies are using bioreactors, which
typically contain the algae in tubes. Some experts say, however, that these
would not totally prevent escapes. "The idea that you can contain these
things and have a large-scale system is not credible," said John R.
Benemann, an industry consultant in Walnut Creek, Calif. He said, however,
that he saw absolutely no risk from genetically engineered algae.
Also from Pollack's article:
"Everything we do to engineer an organism makes it weaker," said Stephen
Mayfield, a professor of biology at the University of California, San Diego,
and a co-founder of Sapphire. "This idea that we can make Frankenfood or
Frankenalgae is just absurd."
Dr. Mayfield and other scientists say there have been no known environmental
problems in the 35 years that scientists have been genetically engineering
bacteria, although some organisms have undoubtedly escaped from
Even Margaret Mellon of the Union of Concerned Scientists, who has been
critical of biotech crops, said that if genetically engineered algae were to
escape, "I would not lose sleep over it at all."