The Link Between Biology and Energy

Reading time: 4 – 6 minutes

We’ve talked previously about bioethanol and its impact on health. According to Juan Enriquez, Chairman and CEO of Biotechonomy, a life sciences research and investment firm, and a member of the management team at Synthetic Genomics, a company dedicated to commercializing synthetic genomic processes and naturally occurring processes for alternative energy solutions, bioethanol is not bioenergy.

TED, which stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design, is a global and growing community that brings together the world’s most fascinating thinkers and doers, and challenges them to give the talk of their lives in just 18 minutes. In September 2007, TED hosted a salon on climate change with the goal of exploring some radical scientific solutions that just might be ideas worth spreading. Juan Enriquez gave a talk about the potential of applying biological principles to the problem of fuel creation and the lessons we can learn from agriculture.

Enriquez predicts that shifting the mapping of the human genome from the world of science to the world of commerce will reshape vast sectors of the world economy and blur the boundaries between businesses – agribusiness and chemicals to healthcare and pharmaceuticals to energy and computing [1]. Almost 10 years ago, he suggested that energy companies may eventually engineer energy sources from plants rather than resorting to fossil fuels [2].

What does all this have to do with health? Imagine a world where energy is extracted from coal, not by burning it, but by having something process it in a biological fashion. Coal-burning power plants are the single largest industrial source of air pollution [3]. Imagine the impact not burning coal would have on the air we breathe.

In his TED talk, Enriquez advances that:

Bioenergy is … beginning to understand the transition that occurred in agriculture from brute force into biological force …

His lecture is a facscinating look at how a number of very smart people are thinking of how to apply biological principles to grow our own energy as efficiently as we grow wheat.


  1. Enriquez and Goldberg. “Transforming Life, Transforming Business: The Life Science Revolution.” In The Digital Enterprise: How To Reshape Your Business For A Connected World, edited by Nicholas G. Carr. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School, 2001.
  2. Enriquez J. Genomics and the world’s economy. Science. 1998 Aug 14;281(5379):925-6.
    View abstract
  3. Power Plants, Your Health and the Environment. Clear the Air, a joint project of the Clean Air Task Force, U.S. Public Interest Research Group Education Fund and the National Environmental Trust. 2002, Aug 21.
About the Author

Walter Jessen, Ph.D. is a Data Scientist, Digital Biologist, and Knowledge Engineer. His primary focus is to build and support expert systems, including AI (artificial intelligence) and user-generated platforms, and to identify and develop methods to capture, organize, integrate, and make accessible company knowledge. His research interests include disease biology modeling and biomarker identification. He is also a Principal at Highlight Health Media, which publishes Highlight HEALTH, and lead writer at Highlight HEALTH.