Stress-adapted extremophiles provide energy without interference with food production
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How to wean humanity off the use of fossil fuels continues to receive much attention but how to replace these fuels with renewable sources of energy has become a contentious field of debate as well as research, which often reflects economic and political factors rather than scientific good sense. It is clear that not every advertized energy source can lead to a sustainable, humane and environment-friendly path out of a future energy crisis. Our proposal is based on two assertions: that the use of food crops for biofuels is immoral, and that for this purpose using land suitable for growing crops productively is to be avoided. We advocate a focus on new “extremophile” crops. These would either be wild species adapted to extreme environments which express genes, developmental processes and metabolic pathways that distinguish them from traditional crops or existing crops genetically modified to withstand extreme environments. Such extremophile energy crops (EECs), will be less susceptible to stresses in a changing global environment and provide higher yields than existing crops. Moreover, they will grow on land that has never been valuable for agriculture or is no longer so, owing to centuries or millennia of imprudent exploitation. Such a policy will contribute to striking a balance between ecosystem protection and human resource management. Beyond that, rather than bulk liquid fuel generation, combustion of various biomass sources including extremophiles for generating electrical energy, and photovoltaics-based capture of solar energy, are superbly suitable candidates for powering the world in the future. Generating electricity and efficient storage capacity is quite possibly the only way for a sustainable post-fossil and, indeed, post-biofuel fuel economy.
KeywordsAlternative crops Bioenergy generation Extremophiles Abiotic stress tolerance Food or fuel
Our work has been supported by funds from King-Abdullah-University for Science and Technology of Saudi Arabia, by the World Class University Program (Korea, R32–10148), by the Biogreen 21 Project of the Rural Development Administration (Korea, 20070301034030), and by University of Illinois and Purdue University institutional support.
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