The Bottleneck Years by H. E. Taylor - Chapter 44

The Bottleneck Years

by H.E. Taylor
Chapter 43 Table of Contents Chapter 45

Chapter 44

An Unsettling Meeting, July 19, 2056

With the summer trimester, my schedule changed. Peter cut the UNGETF meetings down to once a month. I no longer had classes on Wednesday, the regular UNGETF meeting day. Usually I went in to work in the lab, but occasionally I stayed at home.

As I walked downtown to the meeting that day, the sun was burning hot. I was sweating within a block. It was uncomfortable and I was thirsty, but mainly I was troubled by my membrane design. My artificial biology project was going nowhere. I kept generating new sequences that ought to work, but which for one reason or another didn't. And I couldn't see why. Some of them went to seed inappropriately. Some curled around, creating a carbon shell that either killed the plant or stifled all growth. Plants had never grown flat and continuously in the fashion I imagined and their genes seemed to know it.

I was distracted when I arrived at the conference. Peter had gone ahead and posed the question: what was going to work? There were several reports. A forensic team from the USSA reported that the initial damage to the Chile balloon was caused by lightning. Makeba greeted this news with a shrug, even though it meant no electronics would have been functioning onboard.

When he was wrapping up, Rhamaposa was particularly blunt. "Methane levels are still rising.

"Group 2 was our best bet in the short term. A new contract has been awarded to a Japanese company with a higher level of quality assurance, although that fact is not being advertised.

"Group 6 is at best a publicity campaign, in my opinion.

"Group 4 is busy planting trees. Industrial scale sequestration is still too expensive.

"Group 5 is being funded, but is still in the early stages."

"And it is unproven technology," objected Barnes.

"I know, I know," Peter held up his hands placatingly. "I'm feeling a little hard pressed here. I don't know how we are going to pull this out of the fire."

His frank admission struck the group. People looked at each other, shifting uneasily.

"Unless one of you happens to have a cheap and easy way to suck more CO2 or methane from the atmosphere..." Rhamaposa looked around the table.

Nobody said a word and I felt impelled to speak up. "I have been trying to create an artificial membrane that will do just that..."

Rhamaposa snapped to attention. "Yes, and...?"

"It's not working. I can't stop it curling."

Peter's face fell and he took a deep breath. "In that case, unless anyone has an objection, I will declare this meeting adjourned."

Nobody said a word and slowly the holograms began to wink out. Dr. Makeba and I locked eyes across the table -- person to hologram for each of us -- then she too disappeared.

Unusually, Peter Barnes' holo lingered and I looked at him curiously.

"Have you looked into using algae?" he asked.


"I just thought with your background it would be a natural."

I shrugged and his hologram disintegrated.

As I walked home, Rhamaposa's air of dejection lingered with me. I replayed the whole short meeting in my mind. "Algae," Barnes had suggested.

Suddenly I wondered why not?

The more I thought about it, the more sense working with algae made. I wouldn't be trying to replicate millions of years of evolution at the drop of a hat; instead, I could apply my hard won photosynthesis knowledge directly.

The trouble with algae, as the old failed attempts at ocean iron fertilization had shown, was that, like in any dynamic system, as soon as you removed one bottleneck, another one showed up. Give the algae plenty of iron and they ran out of calcium or nitrates, phosphorus or silicon. If only they were on land where they were within easy reach.

Then it hit me. There were algae on land! In the form of lichen! A symbiosis of algae and fungus. Maybe that would work. It was time to to read up on lichen.

Excerpted from _The Bottleneck Years_ by H.E. Taylor

For further information see:
A Gentle Introduction.

Last modified June 11, 2013

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