Typically, bugs in your sugar are bad things, but thanks to the combined efforts the Wyss Institute and Harvard Medical school, they might just be helping out. By combining photosynthesis and genetic engineering, the researchers have found a way to produce sugar without a need for that pesky sugarcane.
To be clear, the bugs we’re talking about are of the microscopic, sun-loving kind – the ones that help out plants and that obsessive compulsives just can’t seem to remove using hand towels. Turns out, they’re also super-useful when engineered to do exactly what you want.
It breaks down like this - the trouble with real live sugarcane is that it actually needs 1) a tropical climate and 2) to be processed and refined in a large, pollution-spewing factory. Although the end result is a pure white substance of undeniable tastiness, the road to get it to your table, packaged and ready for use, is not particularly streamlined.
The Wyss Institute’s mandate is to use Nature’s own design to create solutions that actually go hand in hand with natural processes, instead of trying to bend them into some black and twisted caricature of themselves. So, Jeffery Way of the Wyss Institute put his head together with Pamela Silver of Harvard Medical to try and come up with a way for bacteria to do more than just sit around and take a bad rap because they’re misunderstood and often confused with their bad-boy cousins, viruses.
Bacteria: Cool AND Green.
Being not only scientists but since they also work at Harvard, the double-barreled, nature-focused research team was able to come up with a solution. By modifying the way certain photosynthetic bacteria act when exposed to their lover and friend, the sun, they’ve been able to not only create bugs that make sugar, but lactic acid as well.
As it happens, lactic acid isn’t just responsible for making sure you feel like you’ve been punched in the chest they day after you lift a herculean weight on the bench press, but is also a core component in many biodegradable plastics.
The hope is that by using a method of production that doesn’t rely on things like avoiding the destruction of sugarcane crops by hurricanes and largely removes the need for the metric crapton of trucks that currently transport this white wonder substance worldwide, both environmental and capitalist agendas can be served.
Further applications in this field are even now being pursued as the team is working toward ways to create other high-value materials at a low-cost rates, with the eventual hope being to allow any part of the world to produce its own sustainable set of sweet, sweet resources.