Thomas's Innovation Wrap #1

🔬 Synthetic biology, 🎮 cloud gaming, ⚙️ self-driving shuttles


Welcome to the first edition of my Innovation Wrap which covers the articles I found particularly interesting in tech/innovation/finance over the past week. If you like it feel free to subscribe to receive future updates. ✔️

🔬 Biology

Forbes wrote a profile piece on Ginkgo Bioworks, the $1.4bn startup focused on revolutionising manufaturing through the design of custom organisms. The piece serves as a good introduction to both the company and to the field of sythnetic biology.

These are exciting times for companies like Ginkgo (named after a dinosaur-era tree that’s a living fossil) that work in the emerging field of synthetic biology. Spurred on by technological and economic advances, particularly the plummeting cost of DNA sequencing and the development of a precision gene-editing tool called Crispr, entrepreneurs have been falling over themselves to start companies. Today, more than 600 companies work in the space, according to SynBioBeta, a Pleasant Hill, California-based firm that hosts the industry’s premier conference and maintains a database of synthetic biology startups. And that universe is growing at a rate of 5% to 10% each year, as money pours into these firms, including $3.8 billion last year alone, according to SynBioBeta founder John Cumbers. The promise of the field is not just a proliferation of new products, but also a reduction of the environmental harm that comes from our heavy reliance on petrochemicals.

SynBioBeta founder John Cumbers also believes that the declining cost of synthesis (“writing” DNA) may make storing digital data in DNA economically feasible within the next decade.

Juan Carlos Izpisúa Belmonte of the Gene Expression Laboratory believes the secret to extending the human life span significantly - the “elixir of life” - may be epigenetic reprogramming.

California is making it illegal to biohack yourself with CRISPR.

💲 Finance

The fate of the world’s largest ETF is tied to 11 random millennials.

The biggest 5 tech companies make up 14% of the US stockmarket. They also account for 30% of R&D spending in the S&P 500 and make up 12% of the pre-tax profits of non-financial firms in America.

🎮 Gaming

Both Google and Microsoft are launching cloud gaming services by the end of this year. What will this mean for the industry? Matthew Ball from REDEF explores the history of the medium and what cloud gaming could mean for the future.

Microsoft has paid ~$50m+ to popular game streamer Ninja to have him leave Twitch and instead stream exclusively on their game streaming platform Mixer. Mixer is a significantly smaller platform than Twitch, so we’ll see whether the network effects of the platform or the popularity of the individual streamer is more important over time - so far 1 million people have subscribe to Ninja on Mixer, but they don’t start paying until September 30th.

⚙️ Mobility

Optimus Ride became the first company to operate a self-driving shuttle service in the state of New York with 6 self-driving shuttles offering free rides around a one-mile loop of the Brooklyn Navy Yard. The company estimates 16,000 passengers per month will use the service.

NEC in Japan have tested a flying “car” with a one minute hover test (it’s more like a drone than a car).

💊 Health

A new blood test can detect Alzheimer’s disease early with 94% accuracy using mass spectrometry to precisely measure amyloid beta in the blood, combined with age and genetic risk factor information.

Acute kidney injury (AKI) affects up to one in five hospitalised patients in the US and UK. Google DeepMind published a paper in Nature demonstrating they can use AI to detect AKI up to 48 hours earlier than previously possible.

🌞 Renewables

The number of fully electric and plug-in hybrid models available in Europe is rising from 98 models at the end of 2019 to 214 models by 2021.

💻 Chips and Computing

AMD launched their 2nd generation EPYC processor with Google and Twitter as initial customers.

⚡ Other Snippets

When surgical students use VR to train they perform significantly better than those that don’t (+230% scores) according to a recent validation study by UCLA. WIRED provides more details.

Tokyo has flagged $1bn to fund research into 25 research areas that include cyborg technology and artificial hibernation.

Instagram’s decision to hide likes will make it harder to find emerging music artists.

Disney priced its new bundle of streaming services at $12.99 a month, in line with Netflix.

The opening of Full House has been transformed with AI into the slightly disturbing Full House of Mustaches.



About Thomas Rice

Thomas Rice is the portfolio manager for the Perpetual Global Innovation Share Fund, based in Sydney, Australia. You can find him on Twitter at @thomasrice_au.