IN THE NEWS: Startup's Oil-Hungry Bugs

New York Times - July 1, 2010

Scientists have long been thwarted in their efforts to create bacteria that can degrade the cocktail of chemicals in crude oil. Splicing in one foreign gene after another, they have designed microbes that, in the lab, could chew through oil's complex chemical chains. But the minute the bugs are introduced in field tests, they are outcompeted by native bacteria. Now, one biotech firm says scientists have been doing it wrong. It is time to do some evolution... But technologies like Evolugator -- and the Genetic Engine, a French competitor that has not quite gotten off the ground -- may give companies freedom to sell optimized bacteria that, since they do not carry the burden of the "GMO" label and regulations, can be more freely applied in the wild, said Jim Spain, a bioengineer at the Georgia Institute of Technology and longtime expert in bioremediation. "The real strength of the Evolugate approach is that they don't do genetic engineering, so there are no regulatory barriers to using the organisms," Spain said. "It's very sophisticated, a rapid strategy for evolution of a bacteria.