synthetic biology — genetic engineering taken to a whole new level.
His most successful project to date: Jay Keasling and his team inserted or tweaked a dozen genes in yeast cells and turned them into tiny factories that churn out a partially synthetic version of artemisinin, a key drug in the leading treatment of malaria. (The usual source of artemisinin is a tree known as sweet wormwood, and there are not enough to meet the global demand.)
And now Amyris, one of the companies Keasling founded, “has a factory in Brazil that’s using the engineered yeast, taking in sugar and spitting out a product that’s a diesel fuel,” Keasling says. Already, that diesel is in buses in Rio and Sao Paulo.
There is, of course, a catch: “This diesel is still more expensive than petroleum-based diesel by quite a long shot.”