Should You Invest in Synthetic Biology Stocks?
03.22.2022 - By The 7investing Podcast
Decades ago, scientists grew excited about the possibility of engineering biology with standardized parts, similar to the foundational changes that enabled the semiconductor industry to blossom into one of the most important in the global economy. Or for the less technical crowd, like Legos.
What should this new way of working with biology be called? The term “intentional biology” was originally proposed, but too many academics scoffed at the proposal, as it implied what they had been doing to that point was “unintentional biology.” Eventually, the field settled on the term “synthetic biology” that remains in use to this day.
There’s just one problem facing investors: What the heck does “synthetic biology” mean?
Synthetic biology isn’t an industry. It’s a way of thinking. It’s about applying engineering principles to biology to create living products and services with predictable functions. Reproducibility may not sound like a significant problem, but a 2016 Nature review found that 60% of scientists couldn’t reproduce their own results. Results from peer-reviewed publications – the gold standard of science – couldn’t be replicated 70% of the time.
As our understanding of biology grows and our ability to more precisely engineer it deepens, living technology will enter and disrupt many economic sectors. This includes health care and agriculture, but also those not commonly associated with biology, such as mining, digital data storage, energy storage, and more.
In an appearance on the 7investing podcast, Dr. Drew Endy, one of the founding fathers of synthetic biology, provided a framework for understanding how biotechnology and synthetic biology differ.
Biotechnology was enabled by three core technologies including recombinant DNA (the ability to clone genes), polymerase chain reaction (PCR, or the ability to amplify genes), and DNA sequencing (the ability to read genes).
Synthetic biology is being enabled by three core technologies including the coordination of labor (the ability to standardize biology and generate reproducible results), abstraction layers (the ability to make engineering more accessible through user interfaces), and DNA synthesis (the ability to write genes).
Although the field of synthetic biology has reached a critical mass and is advancing quickly, investors are reminded that it’s still early. Perhaps the best analogy is to tech stocks.
In the late 1990s, if you thought that the information superhighway would fundamentally reshape the economy, then you would’ve been 100% correct. But you also might have invested in Pets.com. Many of the most valuable “net stocks” either hadn’t been founded (Google was founded in 1998, Facebook in 2004) or hadn’t launched their transformational services (the cloud computing division of Amazon Web Services launched in 2006) or products (the first iPhone launched in 2007).
Today, if you think synthetic biology will fundamentally reshape the economy, then I think you’ll be proven 100% correct. But there sure are a lot of Pets.coms out there right now. Many business models are still being tinkered, while many grand visions still remain beyond the technical capabilities of scientists in 2022. Therefore, it’s not unreasonable to think that some of the most valuable synthetic biology companies of our lifetimes haven’t been founded yet.
In this episode of 7inFocus, 7investing Lead Advisor Maxx Chatsko introduces investors to synthetic biology and provides his thoughts on the attractiveness of Amyris (NASDAQ: AMRS), Codexis (NASDAQ: CDXS), Ginkgo Bioworks (NYSE: DNA), Twist Bioscience (NASDAQ: TWST), and Zymergen (NASDAQ: ZY).
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