Explainer: How Synthetic Biology is Redesigning Life
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Explainer: How Synthetic Biology is Redesigning Life

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Synthetic Biology

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Explainer: How Synthetic Biology is Redesigning Life

Synthetic biology (SynBio) is a field of science that involves engineering life for human benefit. It has the potential to reshape many facets of society—from the ways we produce food, to how we detect and cure diseases.

It’s a fast-growing field of science. In fact, by 2026, the SynBio market’s global revenue is expected to reach $34.5 billion, at a CAGR of 21.9%.

While this fascinating area of research is worth paying attention to, it might be daunting to wrap your head around—especially if you don’t come from a scientific background. With this in mind, here’s an introduction to synthetic biology, and how it works.

What is Synthetic Biology?

As we touched on in the introduction, SynBio is an area of scientific research that involves editing and redesigning the biological components, systems, and interactions that make up life. By doing this, SynBio can grant organisms new abilities that are beneficial to humans.

It’s similar to genetic engineering, however, it’s slightly more granular. While genetic engineering transfers ready-made genetic material between organisms, SynBio builds new genetic material from scratch.

SynBio has applications across a myriad of fields, with research covering everything from space exploration to drug discovery. Here’s a look at five of its real-world applications:

1. Medical Technologies

SynBio has a wide range of medical applications, including drug discovery, antibody production, and vaccine innovation (it’s been key in the fight against COVID-19). It also plays a significant role in “living drug” development, which is the use of living microbes to treat chronic or severe illnesses.

2. Sustainable Energies

Biofuel, which is renewable energy that’s derived from living matter, could replace petroleum and diesel in the near future—and synthetic biology technology is helping develop fermentation processes that will produce biofuel more efficiently.

3. Bioremediation

Bioremediation uses living organisms to restore polluted sites to their original condition. This field uses SynBio to try and make the decontamination process more efficient, and to expand the list of contaminants that bioremediation can target.

4. Food and Agriculture

SynBio plays a significant role in cellular agriculture, which is the production of agricultural products directly from cells rather than livestock or plants. These modified foods might have higher nutritional value, or might be void of allergens. For instance, this can be used to make plant-based burgers taste more like meat.

5. Space Systems and Exploration

Synthetic biology and 3-D printing have huge potential to sustain life during space exploration. Using SynBio technology, cells and bacteria could be modified to produce a myriad of materials—from plastic to medicine, and even food—and astronauts could print these synthetically engineered materials on-demand while in space.

Zooming in: the Science Behind Synthetic Biology

Now that we’ve touched on SynBio’s use in a wide range of industries, let’s dive into the science behind it. In order to understand the mechanics of SynBio, it’s important to explore the relationship between DNA and protein production.

Proteins are the drivers of life in a cell—they’re responsible for carrying out all of life’s functions. They are created through a process called protein synthesis, which relies heavily on DNA. Why is DNA so important in protein production? Because it houses all the information a cell needs for protein synthesis.

Once a protein is formed, it embarks on a complex journey throughout the cell, interacting with a number of other proteins and cellular components to perform functions needed for the cell’s survival.

This process of protein production and cellular interaction is an example of a biological system. And it’s this biological system that synthetic biologists investigate, and try to manipulate.

The Five Main Areas of Research

After combing through the literature, we identified five major areas of SynBio research:

  • In silico Synthetic Biology
    Meaning “via computer”, this area of SynBio research uses computational simulations to design and predict new biological systems. It’s like using a drawing board before starting a project.
  • “Unnatural” Molecular Biology
    An area of research focused on altering the smallest unit of DNA—nucleotides.
  • Bioengineering
    This area of research deals with larger segments of DNA like genes or chromosomes, and sometimes other cell components that interact with DNA. It aims to create new proteins or protein systems and is the most popular area of SynBio research.
  • Synthetic Genomics
    Focused on altering and manipulating whole genomes (which is the complete set of a cell’s DNA).
  • Protocell Synthetic Biology
    This field of research aims to construct whole cells. This is a step towards creating organisms that are entirely synthetic

While early research in SynBio struggled to finish real-world projects, innovation in this field has ramped up quickly in the last decade.

Synthetic biology products are becoming increasingly more pervasive in everyday life—so much so that by 2030, some scientists believe most people will have eaten, worn, or used something created through synthetic biology.

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Ranked: Big Tech CEO Insider Trading During the First Half of 2021

Big Tech is worth trillions, but what are insiders doing with their stock? We breakdown Big Tech CEO insider trading during the first half of 2021.

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Big Tech CEO Insider Trading During The First Half of 2021

When CEOs of major companies are selling their shares, investors can’t help but notice.

After all, these decisions have a direct effect on the personal wealth of these insiders, which can say plenty about their convictions with respect to the future direction of the companies they run.

Considering that Big Tech stocks are some of the most popular holdings in today’s portfolios, and are backed by a collective $5.3 trillion in institutional investment, how do the CEOs of these organizations rank by their insider selling?

CEOStockShares Sold H1 2021Value of Shares ($M)
Jeff BezosAmazon (AMZN)2.0 million$6,600
Mark ZuckerbergFacebook (FB)7.1 million$2,200
Satya NadellaMicrosoft (MSFT)278,694
$65
Sundar PichaiGoogle (GOOGL)27,000$62
Tim CookApple (AAPL)0$0

Breaking Down Insider Trading, by CEO

Let’s dive into the insider trading activity of each Big Tech CEO:

Jeff Bezos

During the first half of 2021, Jeff Bezos sold 2 million shares of Amazon worth $6.6 billion.

This activity was spread across 15 different transactions, representing an average of $440 million per transaction. Altogether, this ranks him first by CEO insider selling, by total dollar proceeds. Bezos’s time as CEO of Amazon came to an end shortly after the half way mark for the year.

Mark Zuckerberg

In second place is Mark Zuckerberg, who has been significantly busier selling than the rest.

In the first half of 2021, he unloaded 7.1 million shares of Facebook onto the open market, worth $2.2 billion. What makes these transactions interesting is the sheer quantity of them, as he sold on 136 out of 180 days. On average, that’s $12 million worth of stock sold every day.

Zuckerberg’s record year of selling in 2018 resulted in over $5 billion worth of stock sold, but over 90% of his net worth still remains in the company.

Satya Nadella

Next is Satya Nadella, who sold 278,694 shares of Microsoft, worth $234 million. Despite this, the Microsoft CEO still holds an estimated 1.6 million shares, which is the largest of any insider.

Microsoft’s stock has been on a tear for a number of years now, and belongs to an elite trillion dollar club, which consists of only six public companies.

Sundar Pichai

Fourth on the list is Sundar Pichai who has been at the helm at Google for six years now. Since the start of 2021, he’s sold 27,000 shares through nine separate transactions, worth $62.5 million. However, Pichai still has an estimated 6,407 Class A and 114,861 Class C shares.

Google is closing in on a $2 trillion valuation and is the best performing Big Tech stock, with shares rising 60% year-to-date. Their market share growth from U.S. ad revenues is a large contributing factor.

Tim Cook

Last, is Tim Cook, who just surpassed a decade as Apple CEO.

During this time, shares have rallied over 1,000% and annual sales have gone from $100 billion to $347 billion. That said, Cook has sold 0 shares of Apple during the first half of 2021. That doesn’t mean he hasn’t sold shares elsewhere, though. Cook also sits on the board of directors for Nike, and has sold $6.9 million worth of shares this year.

Measuring Insider Selling

All things equal, it’s desirable for management to have skin in the game, and be invested alongside shareholders. It can also be seen as aligning long-term interests.

A good measure of insider selling activity is in relation to the existing stake in the company. For example, selling $6.6 billion worth of shares may sound like a lot, but when there are 51.7 million Amazon shares remaining for Jeff Bezos, it actually represents a small portion and is probably not cause for panic.

If, however, executives are disclosing large transactions relative to their total stakes, it might be worth digging deeper.

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The World’s Most Used Apps, by Downstream Traffic

Of the millions of apps available around the world, just a small handful of the most used apps dominate global internet traffic.

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The World’s Most Used Apps by Downstream Traffic Share

The World’s Most Used Apps, by Downstream Traffic

Of the millions of apps available around the world, just a small handful of the most used apps dominate global internet traffic.

Everything connected to the internet takes bandwidth to view. When you look at something on your smartphone—whether it’s a new message on Instagram or the next few seconds of a YouTube video—your device is downloading the data in the background.

And the bigger the files, the more bandwidth is utilized. In this chart, we break down of the most used apps by category, using Sandvine’s global mobile traffic report for 2021 Q1.

Video Drives Global Mobile Internet Traffic

The biggest files use the most data, and video files take the cake.

According to Android Central, streaming video ranges from about 0.7GB per hour of data for a 480p video to 1.5GB per hour for 1080. A 4K stream, the highest resolution currently offered by most providers, uses around 7.2GB per hour.

That’s miles bigger than audio files, where high quality 320kbps music streams use an average of just 0.12GB per hour. Social network messages are usually just a few KB, while the pictures found on them can range from a few hundred KB for a low resolution image to hundreds of MB for high resolution.

Understandably, breaking down mobile downstream traffic by app category shows that video is on top by a long shot:

CategoryDownstream Traffic Share (2021 Q1)
Video Streaming48.9%
Social Networking19.3%
Web13.1%
Messaging6.7%
Gaming4.3%
Marketplace4.1%
File Sharing1.3%
Cloud1.1%
VPN and Security0.9%
Audio0.2%

Video streaming accounts for almost half of mobile downstream traffic worldwide at 49%. Audio streaming, including music and podcasts, accounts for just 0.2%.

Comparatively, social network and web browsing combined make up one third of downstream internet traffic. Games, marketplace apps, and file sharing, despite their large file sizes, only require one-time downloads that don’t put as big of a strain on traffic as video does.

A Handful of Companies Own the Most Used Apps

Though internet traffic data is broken down by category, it’s worth noting that many apps consume multiple types of bandwidth.

For example, messaging and social network apps, like WhatsApp, Instagram, and Snapchat, allow consumers to stream video, social network, and message.

Even marketplace apps like iTunes and Google Play consume bandwidth for video and audio streaming, and together account for 6.3% of total mobile downstream traffic.

But no single app had a bigger footprint than YouTube, which accounts for 20.4% of total global downstream bandwidth.

CategoryTop Apps (Category Traffic)Category Traffic Share
Video StreamingYouTube47.9%
Video StreamingTikTok16.1%
Video StreamingFacebook Video14.6%
Video StreamingInstagram12.1%
Video StreamingNetflix4.3%
Video StreamingOther5.0%
Social NetworkingFacebook50.5%
Social NetworkingInstagram41.9%
Social NetworkingTwitter2.4%
Social NetworkingOdnoklassniki1.9%
Social NetworkingQQ0.7%
Social NetworkingOther2.9%
MessagingWhatsApp31.4%
MessagingSnapchat16.5%
MessagingFacebook VoIP14.3%
MessagingLINE12.1%
MessagingSkype4.1%
MessagingOther21.6%
WebGoogle41.2%
WebOther58.8%

The world’s tech giants had the leading app in the four biggest data streaming categories. Alphabet’s YouTube and Google made up almost half of all video streaming and web browsing traffic, while Facebook’s own app, combined with Instagram and WhatsApp, accounted for 93% of global social networking traffic and 45% of messaging traffic.

Traffic usage by app highlights the data monopoly of tech giants and internet providers. Since just a few companies account for a majority of global smartphone internet traffic, they have a lot more bartering power (and responsibility) when it comes to our general internet consumption.

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