Strange and wonderful bacteria live in our oceans, so why not use them to make fabulous new medicines? Or wondrous new energy supplies?
Because we didn't know enough about them until recently. With the acceleration of genomics, and star power from Craig Venter, ocean microbes have now hit the big time.
Ventner helped decode the human genome ahead of schedule, and for his 2 1/2 year summer vacation he sailed around the world on his own yacht and decided to bring his work (DNA sequencers) with him. This sounds like a boondoggle, but after his shocking private success competing with the government-funded human genome project, nobody laughs at his ideas anymore.
Now he's ready to use information from the expedition to design new ways to treat human diseases or new ways to fuel civilization's machines. This is an exciting new chapter in the long history of using ocean organisms to develop new medicines. It was different in the old days, when chemists extracted strange compounds from bizarre toxic sponges and the like. Now the focus is on interesting genes from strange microbes.
Will it work? I wouldn't bet against Craig Venter, he has a record of confounding skeptics.