There's an interesting article in the latest Scientific American magazine. Amazingly, scientists at a company called Genomatica, Inc., in San Diego, have managed to coax some E. coli to produce something named butanediol. Now butanediol is a chemical that is used to make, as the article states, "everything from spandex to car bumpers". The nice part of this whole deal is that the bacteria are apparently able to make it significantly more efficiently than factories can - and this translates into lesser energy expenditure and hence lower costs. It's also a more environmentally friendly process, apparently.
This is certainly not the first time bacteria have been commandeered into producing a nice substance for us. They have been used to produce insulin for us for decades, for instance. But this latest success shows us just how malleable these organisms are, and how slavishly any organism can follow the dicates of its genes, given the right circumstances.