Synthetic Biology: The $3.6 Trillion Science Changing Life as We Know It
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Synthetic Biology: The $3.6 Trillion Science Changing Life as We Know It

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How Synthetic Biology Could Change Life as we Know it

Synthetic biology (synbio) is a field of science that redesigns organisms in an effort to enhance and support human life. According to one projection, this rapidly growing field of science is expected to reach $28.8 billion in global revenue by 2026.

Although it has the potential to transform many aspects of society, things could go horribly wrong if synbio is used for malicious or unethical reasons. This infographic explores the opportunities and potential risks that this budding field of science has to offer.

What is Synthetic Biology?

We’ve covered the basics of synbio in previous work, but as a refresher, here’s a quick explanation of what synbio is and how it works.

Synbio is an area of scientific research that involves editing and redesigning different biological components and systems in various organisms.

It’s like genetic engineering but done at a more granular level—while genetic engineering transfers ready-made genetic material between organisms, synbio can build new genetic material from scratch.

The Opportunities of Synbio

This field of science has a plethora of real-world applications that could transform our everyday lives. A study by McKinsey found over 400 potential uses for synbio, which were broken down into four main categories:

  • Human health and performance
  • Agriculture and food
  • Consumer products and services
  • Materials and energy production

If those potential uses become reality in the coming years, they could have a direct economic impact of up to $3.6 trillion per year by 2030-2040.

1. Human Health and Performance

The medical and health sector is predicted to be significantly influenced by synbio, with an economic impact of up to $1.3 trillion each year by 2030-2040.

Synbio has a wide range of medical applications. For instance, it can be used to manipulate biological pathways in yeast to produce an anti-malaria treatment.

It could also enhance gene therapy. Using synbio techniques, the British biotech company Touchlight Genetics is working on a way to build synthetic DNA without the use of bacteria, which would be a game-changer for the field of gene therapy.

2. Agriculture and Food

Synbio has the potential to make a big splash in the agricultural sector as well—up to $1.2 trillion per year by as early as 2030.

One example of this is synbio’s role in cellular agriculture, which is when meat is created from cells directly. The cost of creating lab-grown meat has decreased significantly in recent years, and because of this, various startups around the world are beginning to develop a variety of cell-based meat products.

3. Consumer Products and Services

Using synthetic biology, products could be tailored to suit an individual’s unique needs. This would be useful in fields such as genetic ancestry testing, gene therapy, and age-related skin procedures.

By 2030-2040, synthetic biology could have an economic impact on consumer products and services to the tune of up to $800 billion per year.

4. Materials and Energy Production

Synbio could also be used to boost efficiency in clean energy and biofuel production. For instance, microalgae are currently being “reprogrammed” to produce clean energy in an economically feasible way.

This, along with other material and energy improvements through synbio methods, could have a direct economic impact of up to $300 billion each year.

The Potential Risks of Synbio

While the potential economic and societal benefits of synthetic biology are vast, there are a number of risks to be aware of as well:

  • Unintended biological consequences: Making tweaks to any biological system can have ripple effects across entire ecosystems or species. When any sort of lifeform is manipulated, things don’t always go according to plan.
  • Moral issues: How far we’re comfortable going with synbio depends on our values. Certain synbio applications, such as embryo editing, are controversial. If these types of applications become mainstream, they could have massive societal implications, with the potential to increase polarization within communities.
  • Unequal access: Innovation and progress in synbio is happening faster in wealthier countries than it is in developing ones. If this trend continues, access to these types of technology may not be equal worldwide. We’ve already witnessed this type of access gap during the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines, where a majority of vaccines have been administered in rich countries.
  • Bioweaponry: Synbio could be used to recreate viruses, or manipulate bacteria to make it more dangerous, if used with ill intent.

According to a group of scientists at the University of Edinburgh, communication between the public, synthetic biologists, and political decision-makers is crucial so that these societal and environmental risks can be mitigated.

Balancing Risk and Reward

Despite the risks involved, innovation in synbio is happening at a rapid pace.

By 2030, most people will have likely eaten, worn, or been treated by a product created by synthetic biology, according to synthetic biologist Christopher A. Voigt.

Our choices today will dictate the future of synbio, and how we navigate through this space will have a massive impact on our future—for better, or for worse.

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33 Problems With Media in One Chart

In this infographic, we catalog 33 problems with the social and mass media ecosystem.

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problems with media

33 Problems With Media in One Chart

One of the hallmarks of democratic society is a healthy, free-flowing media ecosystem.

In times past, that media ecosystem would include various mass media outlets, from newspapers to cable TV networks. Today, the internet and social media platforms have greatly expanded the scope and reach of communication within society.

Of course, journalism plays a key role within that ecosystem. High quality journalism and the unprecedented transparency of social media keeps power structures in check—and sometimes, these forces can drive genuine societal change. Reporters bring us news from the front lines of conflict, and uncover hard truths through investigative journalism.

That said, these positive impacts are sometimes overshadowed by harmful practices and negative externalities occurring in the media ecosystem.

The graphic above is an attempt to catalog problems within the media ecosystem as a basis for discussion. Many of the problems are easy to understand once they’re identified. However, in some cases, there is an interplay between these issues that is worth digging into. Below are a few of those instances.

Editor’s note: For a full list of sources, please go to the end of this article. If we missed a problem, let us know!

Explicit Bias vs. Implicit Bias

Broadly speaking, bias in media breaks down into two types: explicit and implicit.

Publishers with explicit biases will overtly dictate the types of stories that are covered in their publications and control the framing of those stories. They usually have a political or ideological leaning, and these outlets will use narrative fallacies or false balance in an effort to push their own agenda.

Unintentional filtering or skewing of information is referred to as implicit bias, and this can manifest in a few different ways. For example, a publication may turn a blind eye to a topic or issue because it would paint an advertiser in a bad light. These are called no fly zones, and given the financial struggles of the news industry, these no fly zones are becoming increasingly treacherous territory.

Misinformation vs. Disinformation

Both of these terms imply that information being shared is not factually sound. The key difference is that misinformation is unintentional, and disinformation is deliberately created to deceive people.

Fake news stories, and concepts like deepfakes, fall into the latter category. We broke down the entire spectrum of fake news and how to spot it, in a previous infographic.

Simplify, Simplify

Mass media and social feeds are the ultimate Darwinistic scenario for ideas.

Through social media, stories are shared widely by many participants, and the most compelling framing usually wins out. More often than not, it’s the pithy, provocative posts that spread the furthest. This process strips context away from an idea, potentially warping its meaning.

Video clips shared on social platforms are a prime example of context stripping in action. An (often shocking) event occurs, and it generates a massive amount of discussion despite the complete lack of context.

This unintentionally encourages viewers to stereotype the persons in the video and bring our own preconceived ideas to the table to help fill in the gaps.

Members of the media are also looking for punchy story angles to capture attention and prove the point they’re making in an article. This can lead to cherrypicking facts and ideas. Cherrypicking is especially problematic because the facts are often correct, so they make sense at face value, however, they lack important context.

Simplified models of the world make for compelling narratives, like good-vs-evil, but situations are often far more complex than what meets the eye.

The News Media Squeeze

It’s no secret that journalism is facing lean times. Newsrooms are operating with much smaller teams and budgets, and one result is ‘churnalism’. This term refers to the practice of publishing articles directly from wire services and public relations releases.

Churnalism not only replaces more rigorous forms of reporting—but also acts as an avenue for advertising and propaganda that is harder to distinguish from the news.

The increased sense of urgency to drive revenue is causing other problems as well. High-quality content is increasingly being hidden behind paywalls.

The end result is a two-tiered system, with subscribers receiving thoughtful, high-quality news, and everyone else accessing shallow or sensationalized content. That everyone else isn’t just people with lower incomes, it also largely includes younger people. The average age of today’s paid news subscriber is 50 years old, raising questions about the future of the subscription business model.

For outlets that rely on advertising, desperate times have called for desperate measures. User experience has taken a backseat to ad impressions, with ad clutter (e.g. auto-play videos, pop-ups, and prompts) interrupting content at every turn. Meanwhile, in the background, third-party trackers are still watching your every digital move, despite all the privacy opt-in prompts.

How Can We Fix the Problems with Media?

With great influence comes great responsibility. There is no easy fix to the issues that plague news and social media. But the first step is identifying these issues, and talking about them.

The more media literate we collectively become, the better equipped we will be to reform these broken systems, and push for accuracy and transparency in the communication channels that bind society together.

Sources and further reading:

Veils of Distortion: How the News Media Warps our Minds by John Zada
Hate Inc. by Matt Taibbi
The Truth Matters: A Citizen’s Guide to Separating Facts from Lies and Stopping Fake News in its Tracks by Bruce Bartlett
Active Measures: The Secret History of Disinformation and Political Warfare by Thomas Rid
The Twittering Machine by Richard Seymour
After the Fact by Nathan Bomey
Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now by Jaron Lanier
Zucked by Roger McNamee
Antisocial: Online Extremists, Techno-Utopians, and the Highjacking of the American Conversation by Andrew Marantz
Social media is broken by Sara Brown
The U.S. Media’s Problems Are Much Bigger than Fake News and Filter Bubbles by Bharat N. Anand
What’s Wrong With the News? by FAIR
Is the Media Doomed? by Politico
The Implied Truth Effect by Gordon Pennycook, Adam Bear, Evan T. Collins, David G. Rand

 

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Ranked: The Best-Selling Video Game Consoles of All Time

Video game consoles have changed drastically over the last 50 years. Here are some of the best-selling ones across the globe.

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Ranked: The Best-Selling Video Game Consoles of All Time

In 1972, the first-ever commercially available home video game console hit the market—the Magnavox Odyssey. Players of the Odyssey had a choice between two built-in games that were stored directly in the device, and would use a joystick and dials as a controller.

Video game consoles have come a long way since then, and the console market has grown into a multi-billion dollar industry that’s expected to reach $72.67 billion in value by the end of 2022.

This graphic by Enrique Mendoza uses data from VGChartz to show the market leaders in the industry, by highlighting the top-selling video consoles of all time, as of May 8, 2022.

Nine Generations of Video Game Consoles

Before diving into the top-selling consoles, it’s worth taking a step back to touch on the evolution of home consoles to show how they’ve changed over the years.

We dug into the literature on the history of video game consoles, and found that most articles and blog posts on the topic cite nine different generations of devices.

Here’s a breakdown of each generation, and some of their most noteworthy systems:

1972: Gen One, Where it Began

Consoles in the first generation had pre-built games that were stored directly on the device. They include the Magnavox Odyssey and Atari’s Pong.

1976: Gen Two Emerges

In this generation, games were sold separately, rather than programmed into the device. Consoles of this gen include the Fairchild Channel F and the Atari 2600.

1983: Gen Three, the “8-bit Generation”

This era’s consoles typically had 8-bit processes which allowed for more advanced graphics for the time. A few notable consoles during this gen were ​​the Sega SG-1000 and the Nintendo Famicom, released outside Japan as the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES).

1987: Gen Four Elevates Handheld Gaming

Home consoles were released with 16-bit systems, meaning that audio and graphics improved even more in this era. But an arguably bigger moment for this gen was the emergence of the Nintendo Game Boy.

1993: The 3D Start of Gen Five

This generation saw the move away from pixels and towards 3D polygons. Some consoles like the Sony PlayStation started using CD-ROMs instead of cartridges, which stored more data at a cheaper cost and changed the industry.

1998: Gen Six and the Internet

At the start of this generation, the three major players in the console space were Sony, Sega, and Nintendo. By the end, Sega would be replaced with Microsoft as it launched the Xbox and helped popularize online console gaming.

2005: HD Graphics and Motion Controls of Gen Seven

On one side of the market, Microsoft and Sony were competing with high-definition graphics, faster processers, and different forms (Blu-rays or DVDs). But Nintendo’s motion-sensing Nintendo Wii arguably defined this generation, and the handheld Nintendo DS swept the market as well.

2012: Gen Eight’s Modern Consoles

Consoles of this era started having increased connectivity and processing power, with full HD an expectation. It was also an extremely long generation, starting with Nintendo’s unsuccessful Wii U and ending with the ultra-successful Nintendo Switch, widely considered the first hybrid console with three different ways to play: TV mode, handheld mode, or tabletop mode.

2020: Gen Nine and Beyond

So far, this generation has brought upgraded graphics (up to 8K resolution), larger games, and game-streaming capabilities. Devices in this gen include the Xbox Series X/S and PlayStation 5, which both use solid state drives to increase speed and performance, while Nintendo has yet to introduce a 9th generation device.

The Best-Selling Game Consoles

The best-selling video game console of all time is Sony’s PlayStation 2 (PS2). More than 157 million systems have been sold around the world since its launch in March 2000.

RankConsoleManufacturerGlobal lifetime sales (millions)
1PlayStation 2 (PS2)Sony157.68
2Nintendo DS (DS)Nintendo154.90
3Game Boy (GB)Nintendo118.69
4PlayStation 4 (PS4)Sony116.97
5Nintendo Switch (NS)Nintendo107.21
6PlayStation (PS)Sony102.50
7Nintendo Wii (Wii)Nintendo101.64
8PlayStation 3 (PS3)Sony87.41
9Xbox 360 (X360)Microsoft85.8
10Game Boy Advance (GBA)Nintendo81.51
11PlayStation Portable (PSP)Sony81.09
12Nintendo 3DS (3DS)Nintendo75.95
13Nintendo Entertainment System (NES)Nintendo61.91
14Xbox One (XOne)Microsoft50.57
15Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES)Nintendo49.10
16Nintendo 64 (N64)Nintendo32.93
17Sega Genesis (GEN)Sega29.54
18Atari 2600 (2600)Atari27.64
19Xbox (XB)Microsoft24.65
20GameCube (GC)Nintendo21.74
21PlayStation 5 (PS5)Sony19.32
22PlayStation Vita (PSV)Sony16.21
23Xbox Series X/S (XS)Microsoft14.32
24Nintendo Wii U (WiiU)Nintendo13.97
25GameGear (GG)Sega10.62
26Sega Saturn (SAT)Sega8.82
27Dreamcast (DC)Sega8.20
28Atari 7800 (7800)Atari4.30

Despite the fact the PS2’s been discontinued since 2013, no other gaming console has managed to top it—in fact, the next closest actively-sold consoles, the PS4 and Nintendo Switch, are each more than 40 million units behind.

One major factor for the PS2’s success was its built-in DVD player. At the time, DVD players were very expensive, and in many places a PS2 was a cheaper and effective alternative. It was also one of the first devices to be “backward compatible,” meaning users could play most of their PS1 games on the PS2. This meant players didn’t have to buy a whole new library of games when they made the switch to a PS2, and Sony could tap into its existing customer base.

But while Sony’s PS2 is the top-selling console on the list, Nintendo has more top-selling consoles on the list—almost half of the consoles on the list are manufactured by Nintendo (11), while only seven are made by Sony.

What Will it Take to Out-Sell the PS2?

As the PS4 has started taking a backseat to the PS5 in sales and promotion, the current most-likely contender for the best-selling console crown is the Nintendo Switch. Early in 2022, it was the fastest console to sell 100 million units.

With lots of hype around the possibilities of AR and VR, it’ll be interesting to see what new features come with the next generation of gaming consoles.

Will future devices ever beat the PS2’s record-breaking sales? Time will tell. But for now, the 22-year-old console continues to hold its well-earned spot at the top.

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