Evolving Bioreactors

This story was inspired by Ed Young’s post, “With evolutionary rocket fuel, bacteria give peas a chance,” about the ImuABC genes in the symbiotic bacteria found in plant root nodules.  

This is a short science-based fiction.

It had taken Andrew and his team five years to develop the complex web of interconnected glass panels and sleek cylindrical bioreactors that were currently bolted to the exterior walls of their off-the-grid Montana test house.

It ran beautifully through the fall, providing more than enough energy for four adults to call the house a home.  Then the first winter storm hit.  Now they couldnt even keep the lights on for an hour.

“Did all of these panels get tested in the lab before we brought them out to the field?” Andrew had his gloves off and was squatting down in front of one of the lower panels, near a bioreactor.  He had unscrewed the bottom of the bioreactor, where algae collects, and was examining its contents.  Snow crusted his thin beard.

The panels covered the exterior walls, ground to roof.  They were made of two pieces of glass sandwiched together, separated by just a half-inch gap.  That gap was filled with water, algae, and millions of tiny carbon dioxide bubbles that fed the algae.

“They weren’t all filled and tested, if that’s what you are asking,” Cory replied, stamping his boots in the snow to bring feeling to his numb toes.  Cory was the lead genetic engineer on the project, and had just arrived from California after power supplies had dwindled at the Montana house for three straight weeks following the storm. “We did a routine strength test on the panels, and decontaminated them before the install.” Invading bacteria had been an early problem when they designed the system.  Get the wrong bacteria mixed in with the algae and everything in the system dies.  Its a major drawback to a living power source.

So far, no group had successfully powered a building entirely on algae.  But every lab test Andrew’s company ran indicated that their system could do just that. Now they had to prove it was true. Continue reading