Saturday, September 29, 2007

Daily Digest September 30, 2007


The DAILY DIGEST: INFORMATION and OPINION from ST. JOHN'S to VICTORIA.

EDITORIALs

OTTAWA CITIZEN - Rising up for freedom
http://www.canada.com/ottawacitizen/news/editorials/story.html?id=e8555721-1c0a-477d-b4d7-eb72ad15e988

TORONTO STAR - A better plan for public schools
http://www.thestar.com/comment/article/261741

NATIONAL POST - Memories of 1812
http://www.canada.com/nationalpost/news/story.html?id=ffef26a9-b2c7-496b-9a3c-7e1d9efe2d5d

WINDSOR STAR - Dalai Lama
The PM's welcome meeting
http://www.canada.com/windsorstar/news/editorial/story.html?id=94d0acf4-e636-4b62-889c-134c8f1b46f0

SUDBURY STAR - Taxpayers deserve a break
http://www.thesudburystar.com/ArticleDisplay.aspx?e=713778

        Tory's platitudes; PC leader's image as crime fighter is borrowed from 1994 New York
         http://www.thesudburystar.com/ArticleDisplay.aspx?e=713780

         Unimpressed voters unlikely to turn out
         http://www.thesudburystar.com/ArticleDisplay.aspx?e=713781

WINNIPEG FREE PRESS - Surfeit of surplus
http://www.winnipegfreepress.com/editorial/story/4048469p-4655034c.html

SASKATOON STARPHOENIX - Use surplus to invest in productivity
http://www.canada.com/saskatoonstarphoenix/news/forum/story.html?id=d16dc9fe-54a6-4ca5-95d7-3a75eafa9b66

         Picture of courage
         http://www.canada.com/saskatoonstarphoenix/news/forum/story.html?id=f40114f0-1ea1-4599-a6b5-b31b9a6a1c7f

CALGARY HERALD - Bad advice for women
http://www.canada.com/calgaryherald/news/theeditorialpage/story.html?id=0550c6f2-7439-4a68-a1b4-d1c3e7a258b1

VANCOUVER SUN - Governments have to be cautious lest the good times stop rolling
http://www.canada.com/vancouversun/news/editorial/story.html?id=18d9ec10-a8fa-47f3-838b-592b2d42d950

        The devil will be in the details of Campbell's climate change plans
         http://www.canada.com/vancouversun/news/editorial/story.html?id=a6c43eea-bb1c-4748-8926-eb05d32b8680

VANCOUVER PROVINCE - Harper now should reduce business and income taxes 
http://www.canada.com/theprovince/news/editorial/story.html?id=3d0739cb-d2fa-4aa1-b048-e6c747f09960

VICTORIA TIMES-COLONIST - Day should check crime facts
http://www.canada.com/victoriatimescolonist/news/comment/story.html?id=e3c9dc42-83cf-4fcf-9917-16933cddfc18

         Forest-land deal shortchanges B.C.
        Decision to pull property from tree farm licence great for company, bad for residents
         hhttp://www.canada.com/victoriatimescolonist/news/comment/story.html?id=2f7a6362-8fd2-4de7-8485-773cfe25c69b


ISSUES

CANADIAN FORCES
Private firm trains Canadian troops
Forces send soldiers to Blackwater outfit under scrutiny for killings in Iraq
http://www.canada.com/ottawacitizen/news/story.html?id=94dd85e3-86f9-45d8-9cb0-e1a7afe6b805

Taliban's deadliest weapons lie in wait
http://www.thestar.com/SpecialSections/Afghanistan/article/261768

Canada pushes for high-profile envoy to Afghanistan
http://www.canada.com/nationalpost/news/story.html?id=b8927bab-f1fd-4d91-989f-37c7c4fe3052

Netherlands to increase troops
http://www.canada.com/nationalpost/news/story.html?id=f1f891df-63e8-4fc7-b598-73bc892282de

Logistics support in Afghanistan among military's toughest jobs
http://www.canada.com/nationalpost/news/story.html?id=b0154aad-a98a-42b8-8598-ee4dfa969d4f

Afghan president seeks peace with Taliban after suicide bomb
http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/RTGAM.20070929.wafghankarzai0929/BNStory/International/home

Karzai ready for talks with Taliban
http://www.canada.com/nationalpost/news/story.html?id=485cbdc7-25fe-441d-b1e2-1677d60004ee&k=15540

Any co-operation with Taliban must come with conditions: MacKay
http://www.recorder.ca/cp/National/070929/n092932A.html


CANUSA/USACAN
Bordering on paranoia
http://www.canada.com/reginaleaderpost/news/viewpoints/story.html?id=bba87aaf-a7d0-4c11-8c5a-0616c64b726e

Cross-border bargains lure more shoppers south
http://www.thestar.com/Business/article/261725


ECONOMIC AFFAIRS
Middle class folks just scraping by
http://www.canada.com/calgaryherald/news/theeditorialpage/story.html?id=5ce2651d-72e6-46ce-a66f-092ffb059582

Fear imports, not GM deal
http://www.canada.com/windsorstar/news/editorial/story.html?id=4b67034c-ebb3-4a26-b9ee-b425c5b62ee8

Williams' R&D fetish
http://www.canada.com/nationalpost/financialpost/comment/story.html?id=1d392111-3535-4420-8ada-c7947d89507a


FOREIGN AFFAIRS
Burmese monks become spiritual warriors
http://www.thestar.com/News/World/article/261787

China's role is key
But don't hold your breath that it will step in to end the Burmese unrest
http://www.canada.com/montrealgazette/news/editorial/story.html?id=fd3ee82f-db5a-4a7d-81ad-b2ef21f74706

The PM touted Canada's `middle power' status this week. What, exactly, was he talking about?
http://www.thestar.com/columnists/article/261324


HEALTH CARE RELATED
Doctor shortage to worsen, conference told
http://www.cbc.ca/canada/story/2007/09/29/doctor-shortage.html


JUSTICE SYSTEM
Shedding light on the darkest of crimes
http://www.canada.com/edmontonjournal/news/insight/story.html?id=095446e3-fa72-4ecd-a866-c5fa583afbd4

Air force fights illegal fishing
http://news.google.com/news/url?sa=t&ct=ca/11-0&fp=46fe91e2e38204f2&ei=MLH-RoKoKaWuoAKbyJD-AQ&url=http%3A//www.canada.com/vancouversun/news/westcoastnews/story.html%3Fid%3D73ca06b3-83f0-410a-b99c-278e46158933&cid=1121432675


POLITICS IN THE PROVINCES
Stelmach calls for calm amid royalty debate 
http://www.canada.com/calgaryherald/news/story.html?id=234664c4-d869-4f8d-aaa4-7ce8bedd7122

Alberta must show oil sector who's in charge
http://www.canada.com/calgaryherald/news/story.html?id=a805c34d-b89c-44cb-8e86-0c70eb3f6961

Auditor General's turn to roll out the barrel
Report on Department of Energy's review systems likely to echo royalty review panel's stern findings
http://www.canada.com/edmontonjournal/news/ideas/story.html?id=ea542c75-3526-4942-b56d-f5b3dbc845ff

Declining Tory popularity leaves Alberta with a fractured political landscape
http://www.recorder.ca/cp/National/070929/n092917A.html


Ontario Liberals on course for majority: poll
http://www.canada.com/nationalpost/news/issuesideas/story.html?id=654e6f9e-aba6-43c3-9387-5517d86b1336&p=2

There's still time for parties to pin down swing voters
http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/LAC.20070929.ONTLYLE29/TPStory/TPNational/Politics/

With 11 days to go, the PCs need a second act quickly
http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/LAC.20070929.ONTHERLE29/TPStory/TPNational/Politics/

Ontario leaders play loose with the real cost of juice
http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/LAC.20070929.RDECLOET29/TPStory/TPBusiness/Politics/

Tory defined by his political past
Hard-working and energetic, Progressive Conservative leader had for decades been the driving force behind the candidate rather than the contender himself http://www.thestar.com/OntarioElection/article/261805

McGuinty tells PM he wants 1¢ of GST
http://www.thestar.com/OntarioElection/article/261825

Tory, Wynne square off Sunday in debate in high-stakes riding
http://www.recorder.ca/cp/National/070929/n092938A.html

Tory denies faith-based school issue hurting party
http://www.ctv.ca/servlet/ArticleNews/story/CTVNews/20070929/tory_schools_070929/20070929?hub=Canada


POLITICS
Election fever on the rise, while political optimism down
http://thechronicleherald.ca/Opinion/914830.html

Tories revised expense return after questions
Elections Canada records show TV ad costs shifted categories
http://www.canada.com/ottawacitizen/news/story.html?id=480db686-5527-460a-91da-80bc34cb3deb

Two Tory scandals that aren't going away
http://bcinto.blogspot.com/2007/09/two-tory-scandals-that-arent-going-away.html

Layton plays down B.C. NDP turmoil
http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/LAC.20070929.BCNDP29/TPStory/TPNational/Politics/

Bloc leaflet attacks 'war mentality'
http://www.canada.com/ottawacitizen/news/story.html?id=f76f5c78-0f53-499b-b010-6ddb2073767d

Grits put their new leader in awkward position
http://thechronicleherald.ca/Opinion/914919.html

Liberal defence critic goes on unauthorized fact-finding trip to Afghanistan
http://www.recorder.ca/cp/National/070929/n092930A.html

Bloc Quebecois leader wants Canada to cut back on oil dependence
http://www.recorder.ca/cp/National/070929/n092925A.html


PROGRAMMES
RCMP launches ad campaign to boost recruitment
http://www.ctv.ca/servlet/ArticleNews/story/CTVNews/20070929/rcmp_ads_070929/20070929?hub=Canada


PRESSURE POINTS
Afghan protests spark fears
Security officials worry about influence on young people in Canada
http://www.thestar.com/News/article/261782

Agencies team up to thwart terrorism
http://www.canada.com/calgaryherald/news/story.html?id=f239cc01-e30d-415e-b122-4c640d7ff6f9

Bush, Harper and Friends: An Environmental Production in Five Acts
http://www.jameslaxer.com/2007/09/bush-harper-and-friends-environmental.html


OPINION AND INFORMATION
Japanese outraged by rewriting of Okinawa history
http://news.independent.co.uk/world/asia/article3010188.ece

The whip-thin line between pleasure and piety
http://www.canada.com/nationalpost/news/issuesideas/story.html?id=a4855303-196b-4b8c-9565-e3901a0c07e4

False passports vs. false ideas
http://www.canada.com/nationalpost/news/issuesideas/story.html?id=a803b278-f49e-442d-bd09-1db2b11f782a

PR:Debunking the fearmongers
http://www.canada.com/nationalpost/news/issuesideas/story.html?id=ea2ae6ea-58db-4878-8f08-777ef343b6d6

MMP only creates more problems
http://www.canada.com/nationalpost/financialpost/comment/story.html?id=d9016584-9c4e-43c7-be65-7e746afec6df

Why Tory screwed up
http://www.canada.com/nationalpost/news/issuesideas/story.html?id=654e6f9e-aba6-43c3-9387-5517d86b1336

Birth of a notion: How to make life better for our kids
http://www.thestar.com/OntarioElection/article/261832

Lots of cash but not for Toronto
http://www.thestar.com/News/GTA/article/261804

The people are not nothing
http://www.canada.com/ottawacitizen/news/story.html?id=7c327f91-bb8c-4759-9dd2-9b934ea6173f

Decline of the empire
Once the heartland of Confederation, Ontario's influence in Canada has been steadily eroded. Robert Sibley asks, What is Ontario's role in the future of Canada? http://www.canada.com/ottawacitizen/news/story.html?id=9d6746e9-a98b-4eee-95c5-78a1b0d37f51

"Ontario's (relatively, if not absolutely) diminished economic prospects." 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next page

 Intention good, but a failure anyway
Wanting freedom is not the same as wanting others to have the same freedom you have.
http://www.canada.com/windsorstar/news/editorial/story.html?id=81f54222-a3ca-4976-929a-b5e2a213aa95

Out of the semi-dark age: let rationality reign
Irrational behaviour, pervasive among us, unfortunately drives politicians' economic, environmental and social policies
http://www.canada.com/vancouversun/news/editorial/story.html?id=b575b6e2-7145-44ab-ad45-33f31e7d80ee

Our obsession with looks isn't just vain, it's deadly
http://www.canada.com/victoriatimescolonist/news/comment/story.html?id=94539dc4-bb21-4702-bc18-69c752fb6765

Be honest, guys: Do you do housework?
Claims of a 50-50 split are more like 80-20 -- in favour of women
http://www.canada.com/victoriatimescolonist/news/comment/story.html?id=76581e30-7c4b-4092-b86a-7237392ea6e2

Is Alberta becoming a petro-tyranny?
http://thechronicleherald.ca/Opinion/914829.html


INFOS

Le Bloc veut réduire la dépendance du Québec face au pétrole
http://info.branchez-vous.com/Nationales/070929/N092906U.html

Climat: Gilles Duceppe dénoncera l'approche du gouvernement Harper
http://info.branchez-vous.com/Nationales/070929/N092914U.html

Denis Coderre entend se rendre en Afghanistan par ses propres moyens
http://info.branchez-vous.com/Nationales/070929/N092922U.html

Stéphane Dion n'a pas l'intention de démettre le dg du PLC, Jamie Carroll
http://info.branchez-vous.com/Nationales/070928/N0928133U.html

Kaboul la vulnérable
http://www.radio-canada.ca/nouvelles/International/2007/09/29/001-kaboul-attentat.shtml

Les dommages collatéraux de la mission afghane
http://www.radio-canada.ca/nouvelles/National/2007/09/29/002-soldats-toxicomanie.shtml

Un plan Bush pour remplacer Kyoto
http://www.ledevoir.com/2007/09/29/158786.html

Qu'est-ce qui cloche avec Dion?
http://www.ledevoir.com/2007/09/29/158788.html

Des élections n'aideraient pas les libéraux
http://www.cyberpresse.ca/article/20070929/CPACTUALITES/709290817/1025/FRONTPAGE


BELOW(30)(30)(30)(30)(30)30)(30)(30)(30)(30)(30)30)(30)(30)(30)(30)(30)30)(30)(30)(30)(30)(30)(30)(30)(30)30)(30)(30)(30)(30)30)30)(30)(30)(30)(30)(30)(30)(30)

Election fever on the rise, while political optimism down
http://thechronicleherald.ca/Opinion/914830.html


        Let's make some assumptions:
                                            federal general election writs have been issued;
                                            you are a non-party supporting Canadian voter;
                                            you are reviewing the "+"s and "-"s of the 01/06-09/07government;
                                            you start by writing down the most positive and most negative actions.

        Maybe no one receiving to-day's Digest will care to do so. If you are, write them down and send them in.

        This is a poll of sorts I reckon, but with no leading questions.

        It'll be interesting (to me at least) to see what if anything much comes in.

                  Joe
        
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CHILD CARE QUESTIONS    
Subject: a new angle on the childcare debate

This survey was prepared by Beverley Smith, past president of Kids First Parent Assoc of Canada and longtime activist for women's and children's equality rights.

It is being distributed this week. It may provide you with a quick take on a new way to look at childcare.

http://www.surveymonkey.com/s.aspx?sm=qHDK5Go0YSpm2A2a65kYug_3d_3d

Beverley Smith
Calgary
403-283-2400

===================================
From: Peggy Merritt

Hi Joe:  I can't help but reflect that in these days of credit card
mentality where large credit card lines of credit and the
accompaning interest payments prevent people from having any vision
of their future..... why is it that the Conservative Government is
castigated for paying down Cannada's wopping debt of over 500
billions of dollars thus saving a wopping interest payment. Of
course surpluses represent over taxation mainly on gasoline and
other necessities but thank God we have some responsible people at
the helm who are looking to make Canada's future a financially
secure one! Peggy Merritt

===================================
From: Dorian Baxter
Subject: Re: Daily Digest September 29, 2007


Dear Joe:
 
It has been a long time since we communicated and I just wanted to thank you so very much for all your assiduity in getting this info out to us....you have no idea how much your time and effort is appreciated.....many, many thanks indeed!
 
Sincerely,
 
Dorian+

(Pleasure)
===================================
From: Robert Ede
Subject: Section 36 & Dalhousie Law Journal article

It seems this piece is utilized by quite a few 'left-ies" and rights-seekers:
 
http://www.google.ca/search?hl=en&q=Providing%2BEssential%2BServices%2BConstitution+36%2Bnader&btnG=Search&meta=cr%3DcountryCA
 
I've requested a copy from Dalhousie Law Journal editor and will fwd if successful
 
My personal view predicts the article is a flawed extrapolation justifying the authors case on one particular issue and others have adapted this extrapolation in other cases - it's now become a 'cited reference' (another case of AN authority becoming THE authority) ( Ed note -perhaps like the 'hockey stick' climate graph?)
 
IMHO, I don't see S.36 in this "standard setting" or "basis point for future reference" light.
 
It is simply what it is on the face of it - entrenching Equalization's principle (whether you agree with THAT is another question) ie reasonably comparable province-provided (with fed subsidy ) services, at reasonably comparable levels of (provincial) taxation
 
- anything else and everything else is being read-in by activists and agenda-pushers

--
Robert Ede,
 
===================================
From: Jacob Pempel
To: "Editor DAILY DIGEST"
Subject:  MMP _ The Ontario proportional representation proposal makes a lot of sense

http://www.yourbigdecision.ca/en_ca/mmp3.aspx
I like it.
Some correspondents wax angry and eloquent about
the Ontario referendum on a MMP, declaring it to be a
corporate power grab by providing for appointed members
in parliament, or otherwise sabotage our democratic wishes.
That's nonsense.  Check it out.

The Ontario proportional representation proposal
makes a lot of sense. The first of two ballots is
for a first past the post winner with the highest
number of votes.

The second ballot is for the party which you favour,
for a well publicised list approved and nominated
by that party(not necessarily its leader).

The end result is very close to a rep by pop
proportional representation for the voters who
cast the two ballots, one for a person and one
for a party. You get the advantage of both systems.
I know that I would sometimes cross party lines
to express my wishes.
Check it out.
http://www.yourbigdecision.ca/en_ca/mmp3.aspx

An improvement might be a rule to ensure that
each party very democratically prioritizes the
names on the list. Politics in each party may
ensure this as well with the MMP as given.

However, no mathematical voting formula can
ever guarantee that only good and true and
smart people will seek and win election. Any
system can result in both good and bad choices.

The arithmetic formula of democratic elections is
less important than the nomination of many very
good persons for us to vote for. We need a formula
for more good people to be nominated and even more
to join the campaign to elect them. As it is, a very
small percentage of our citizens is now involved
in party policies and election nominations.We
need a few million campaigners on the street
to campaign for the right nominees.

That formula to achieve that eludes all of us.
A pity.
...Jacob Rempel

===================================
Subject: Ethanol, schmethanol
From: Stratos Psarianos

My feelings exactly ...
 
Stratos


2007-09-27
http://www.economist.com/displaystory.cfm?story_id=9861379
 
 
Advanced biofuels

Ethanol, schmethanol
Sep 27th 2007 | EMERYVILLE, REDWOOD CITY AND SAN CARLOS, CALIFORNIA
From The Economist print edition


Everyone seems to think that ethanol is a good way to make cars greener. Everyone is wrong

Illustration by Stephen Jeffrey
Illustration by Stephen Jeffrey
 
 

Get article background

SOMETIMES you do things simply because you know how to. People have known how to make ethanol since the dawn of civilisation, if not before. Take some sugary liquid. Add yeast. Wait. They have also known for a thousand years how to get that ethanol out of the formerly sugary liquid and into a more or less pure form. You heat it up, catch the vapour that emanates, and cool that vapour down until it liquefies.

The result burns. And when Henry Ford was experimenting with car engines a century ago, he tried ethanol out as a fuel. But he rejected it­and for good reason. The amount of heat you get from burning a litre of ethanol is a third less than that from a litre of petrol. What is more, it absorbs water from the atmosphere. Unless it is mixed with some other fuel, such as petrol, the result is corrosion that can wreck an engine's seals in a couple of years. So why is ethanol suddenly back in fashion? That is the question many biotechnologists in America have recently asked themselves.

The obvious answer is that, being derived from plants, ethanol is "green". The carbon dioxide produced by burning it was recently in the atmosphere. Putting that CO2 back into the air can therefore have no adverse effect on the climate. But although that is true, the real reason ethanol has become the preferred green substitute for petrol is that people know how to make it­that, and the subsidies now available to America's maize farmers to produce the necessary feedstock. Yet such things do not stop ethanol from being a lousy fuel. To solve that, the biotechnologists argue, you need to make a better fuel that is equally green. Which is what they are trying to do.
 
Designer petrol

The first step on the road has been butanol. This is also a type of alcohol that can be made by fermenting sugar (though the fermentation is done by a species of bacterium rather than by yeast), and it has some advantages over ethanol. It has more carbon atoms in its molecules (four, instead of two), which means more energy per litre­though it is still only 85% as rich as petrol. It also has a lower tendency to absorb water from the atmosphere.

A joint venture between DuPont, a large American chemical company, and BP, a British energy firm, has worked out how to industrialise the process of making biobutanol, as the chemical is commonly known when it is the product of fermentation. Although BP plans to start selling the stuff in the next few weeks (mixed with petrol, to start with), the truth is that butanol is not all that much better than ethanol. The interesting activity is elsewhere.

One route might be to go for yet-larger (and thus energy-richer) alcohol molecules. Any simple alcohol is composed of a number of carbon and hydrogen atoms (like a hydrocarbon such as petrol) together with a single oxygen atom. In practice, this game of topping up the carbon content to make a better fuel stops with octanol (eight carbon atoms) as anything bigger tends to freeze at temperatures that might be encountered in winter. But living things are familiar with alcohols. Their enzymes are geared up to cope with them. This makes the biotechnologists' task that much easier.

The idea of engineering enzymes to make octanol was what first brought Codexis, a small biotechnology firm based in Redwood City, California, into the field. Codexis's technology works with pharmaceutical precision­indeed, one of its main commercial products is the enzyme system for making the chemical precursor to Lipitor, a cholesterol-lowering drug that is marketed by Pfizer. Codexis controls most of the important patents for what is known as molecular evolution. This designs enzymes in the way that normal evolution designs organisms. It creates lots of variations on a theme, throws away the ones it does not want, and shuffles the rest in a process akin to sex. It then repeats the process on the survivors until something useful emerges­though, unlike natural evolution, there is a bit of intelligent design in the process, too. The result, according to Codexis's boss, Alan Shaw, is enzymes that can perform chemical transformations unknown in nature.

Dr Shaw, however, is no longer so interested in octanol as a biofuel. Like two other, nearby firms, he is now focusing Codexis's attention on molecules even more chemically similar to petrol. The twist that Codexis brings is that unlike petrol, of which each batch from the refinery is chemically different from the others (because the crude oil from which it is derived is an arbitrary mixture of hydrocarbon molecules), biopetrol could be turned out exactly the same, again and again, and thus designed to have the optimal mixture of properties required of a motor fuel.

Exactly which molecules Codexis is most interested in these days, Dr Shaw is not yet willing to say. But Amyris Biotechnologies, which is also based in California, in Emeryville, and which also started by dabbling in drugs (in its case an antimalarial medicine called artemisinin), is slightly more forthcoming. Under the guidance of its founder Jay Keasling, it has been working on a type of isoprenoid (a class of chemicals that include rubber).

Unlike Codexis, which deals in purified enzymes, Amyris employs a technique called synthetic biology, which turns living organisms into chemical reactors by assembling novel biochemical pathways within them. Dr Keasling and his colleagues scour the world for suitable enzymes, tweak them to make them work better, then sew the genes for the tweaked enzymes into a bacterium that thus turns out the desired product. That was how they produced artemisinin, which is also an isoprenoid.

Isoprenoids have the advantage that, like alcohols, they are part of the natural biochemistry of many organisms. Enzymes to handle them are thus easy to come by. They have the additional advantage that some are pure hydrocarbons, like petrol. With a little judicious searching, Amyris thinks it has come up with isoprenoids that have the right characteristics to substitute for petrol.

The third Californian firm in the business, LS9 of San Carlos, is cutting to the chase. If petrol is what is wanted, petrol is what will be delivered. And diesel, too, although in this case the product is actually biodiesel, which is in some ways superior to the petroleum-based stuff.

LS9 also uses synthetic biology, but it has concentrated on controlling the pathways that make fatty acids. Like alcohols, fatty acids are molecules that have lots of hydrogen and carbon atoms, and a small amount of oxygen (in their case two oxygen atoms, rather than one). Plant oils consist of fatty acids combined with glycerol­and these fatty acids (for example, those from palm oil) are the main raw material for the biodiesel already sold today.

LS9 has used its technology to turn microbes into factories for fatty acids containing between eight and 20 carbon atoms­the optimal number for biodiesel. But it also plans to make what it calls "biocrude". In this case the fatty acids would have 18-30 carbon atoms, and the final stage of the synthetic pathway would clip off the oxygen atoms to create pure hydrocarbons. This biocrude could be fed directly into existing oil refineries, without any need to modify them.

These firms, however, have one other competitor. His name is Craig Venter. Dr Venter, a veteran of biotechnological scraps ranging from gene patenting to the private human-genome project, has been interested in bioenergy for a long time. To start with, it was hydrogen that caught his eye, then methane­both of which are natural bacterial products. But now that eye is shifting towards liquid fuels. His company, modestly named Synthetic Genomics (and based, unlike the others, on the east side of America, in Rockville, Maryland), is reluctant to discuss details, but Dr Venter, too, is taken with the pharmaceutical analogy. Indeed, he goes as far as to posit the idea of clinical trials for biofuels­presumably pitting one against another, perhaps with petroleum-based products acting as the control, and without the drivers knowing which was which.

Whether biofuels will ever be competitive with fossil fuels remains to be seen. That will depend on a mixture of economics and politics. But the political rush to back ethanol, just because it is green and people have heard of it, is a mistake. Let a thousand flowers bloom, and see which one wins Dr Venter's Grand Prix.

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