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.
The Top Downloaded Apps in 2022
Six of the top 10 most downloaded apps in Q1 2022 were social media apps, and four of them are owned by Meta.
The Top Downloaded Apps in 2022
Whether they’re providing a service like ride-sharing or acting as a mere source of entertainment, mobile apps have become an integral part of many peoples’ day-to-day lives.
But which apps are most popular among users?
This graphic uses data from a recent report by Sensor Tower to show the top 10 most downloaded apps around the world in Q1 2022 from the Google Play and Apple App Store.
Social Reigns Supreme
According to the report, total app downloads reached 36.9 billion in Q1 2022, a 1.4% increase compared to Q1 2021.
A majority of the top 10 most downloaded apps were social media platforms, with Meta and ByteDance owning six of the top 10.
|2||Photo and video|
|7||Snapchat||Photo and video|
|9||CapCut||Photo and video|
Meta’s four platforms on the list are Instagram, Facebook, WhatsApp, and Messenger, while ByteDance owns TikTok and video-editing platform CapCut.
Just outside the top 10 are Zoom and WhatsApp Business (yet another Meta-owned app).
TikTok’s Winding Road to the Top
In Q1 2021, TikTok exceeded 3.5 billion all-time downloads, becoming the fifth app (and the first non-Meta app) to reach this milestone. This is impressive considering the app has been banned in India as of June 2020. Prior to the ban, India accounted for 30% of TikTok’s downloads.
India’s not the only country that’s banned the use of TikTok. Pakistan has blocked TikTok multiple times because of concerns over “inappropriate” content. However, it’s worth noting that the bans in Pakistan only lasted a few days before being lifted, and currently, Pakistanis are able to access the platform.
Top 10 Highest Grossing Apps
TikTok isn’t just the most downloaded app in the world—it’s also the highest-grossing non-game app, based on Q1 2022 revenue from the App Store and Google Play:
|2||YouTube||Photo and video|
TikTok generated an impressive $821 million in consumer spending in the last quarter. The video-sharing platform was the top-grossing app on the App Store, and the second-highest-grossing on Google Play, coming just after Google One.
While none of Meta’s platforms made it onto the top 10 list for gross revenue, these platforms make a ton of money that doesn’t necessarily flow through app stores. In 2021, Meta generated more than $117.9 billion in revenue, with over 97% of that coming from ads.
Growth’s on the Horizon
The pandemic had a massive impact on the app market.
In 2020, app spending on things like premium access, in-app purchases, and subscriptions surged by 30% year-over-year to reach $111 billion.
And while COVID-19 restrictions are easing in most places around the world, app spending isn’t likely to taper off anytime soon. By 2025, spending is expected to grow to $270 billion.
Animation: How the Mobile Phone Market Has Evolved Over 30 Years
This animation chronicles the evolution of the mobile phone market, showing the rise and fall of various mobile phone manufacturers.
How The Mobile Phone Market Has Evolved Since 1993
The mobile phone landscape looks drastically different today than it did three decades ago.
In 1993, Motorola accounted for more than half of the mobile phone market. But by 2021, its market share had shrunk to just 2.2%. How did this happen, and how has the mobile industry changed over the last 30 years?
This video by James Eagle chronicles the evolution of the mobile phone market, showing the rise and fall of various mobile phone manufacturers. The data spans from December 1992 to December 2021.
The Early Days of Mobile Phones
Motorola is known for being a pioneer in the mobile phone industry.
In 1983, the American company launched one of the world’s first commercially available mobile phones—the DynaTAC 8000X. The revolutionary analog phone cost nearly $4,000 and offered users up to 30 minutes of talk time before needing to be recharged.
Motorola went on to launch a few more devices over the next few years, like the MicroTAC 9800X in 1989 and the International 3200 in 1992, and quickly became a dominant player in the nascent industry. In the early days of the market, the company’s only serious competitor was Finnish multinational Nokia, which had acquired the early mobile network pioneer Mobira.
But by the mid-1990s, other competitors like Sony and Siemens started to gain some solid footing, which chipped away at Motorola’s dominance. In September 1995, the company’s market share was down to 32.1%.
|Mobile Phone Market Share by Company||% Share (Sept. 1995)|
By January 1999, Nokia surpassed Motorola as the leading mobile phone manufacturer, accounting for 21.4% of global market share. That put it just slightly ahead of Motorola’s 20.8%.
One of the reasons for Nokia’s surging popularity was the major headway the company was making in the digital phone space. In 1999, the company released the Nokia 7110, the first mobile phone to have a web browser.
But it wasn’t just Nokia’s innovations that were hampering Motorola. In 1999, Motorola fell on hard times after one of its spin-off projects called Iridium SSC filed for bankruptcy. This put a massive financial strain on the company, and it eventually laid off a large chunk of its workforce after the project failed.
From then on, Motorola’s market share hovered between 14% and 20%, until Apple’s iPhone entered the scene in 2007 and turned the mobile phone industry on its head.
The Emergence of the iPhone
Things really started to change with the launch of the iPhone in 2007.
In a keynote presentation at the San Francisco Macworld Expo in 2007, Steve Jobs presented the iPhone as three products wrapped into one device: a touchscreen iPod, a revolutionary cell phone, and an internet communications device.
One year later, Apple launched the App Store, which gave users the ability to download applications and games onto their iPhones. Not only did this greatly enhance the iPhone’s functionality, but it also allowed consumers to customize their mobile devices like never before.
This was the start of a new era of smartphones—one that Motorola failed to keep up with. Less than two years after the iPhone launched, Apple had captured 17.4% of the mobile phone market. In contrast, Motorola’s market share had shrunk down to 4.9%.
By the end of 2021, Apple held about 27.3% of the global mobile market. The iPhone is a key part of the tech giant’s growth, driving more than 50% of the company’s overall revenue.
A Failure to Pivot
While a number of factors contributed to Motorola’s downfall, many point to one central hurdle—the company’s failure to pivot.
The iPhone’s emergence was the start of a new, software-driven era. Motorola had mastered the hardware-driven era, but failed to keep up when the tides changed. And the animation above highlights other companies that also failed to adapt or keep up, including BlackBerry (formerly RIM), Palm, Sony, and LG.
But Apple is not alone. The popularity of Google’s Android mobile operating system has helped competitors like South Korea’s Samsung and China’s Huawei and Xiaomi flourish, with each company establishing strong footholds in the global mobile phone market.
In today’s fast-paced world, the ability to pivot is essential if businesses want to remain competitive. Will today’s mobile phone giants like Apple and Samsung remain on top? Or will other companies like Huawei catch up in the next few years?
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