An update to our report on what executives need to know about the business impact of biological sciences.
As a technologist it has been very exciting to watch how advanced capabilities in IT have accelerated a revolution in applied biology. For the first time in human history, we are shifting from understanding biology to engineering biology.
The developments in understanding of and engineering biology are already producing results for humanity and all indications are that this revolution is just beginning. It is also becoming clear that this revolution will provide opportunities for businesses in every sector of the economy, not just healthcare. Business leaders should pay attention to the revolution in applied biology and consider what sort of shifts it should compel to your strategy.
Our goal with this piece is to provide a framework that can help executives and investors quickly contextualize what is important about the revolution in biological sciences. It is the first in a four part series that will cover:
- Understanding foundational biological science (this post)
- Bioengineering, Health and Business (focusing on healthcare)
- Application of biological sciences to non-health outcomes (major non-healthcare developments)
- Awareness of key advancements in bio-engineering and potential relevance to your business operations (ways to kickstart your bio-strategy)
Foundational Biological Science
We believe we have reached the point where any leader in business or government should have at least a basic understanding of the biological sciences and the major domains of progress in the field. Advancements in the science and engineering here will impact markets, employees, government policies, and even the global strategic environment.
Major topics encountered in OODA’s business-focused research and reporting in this domain include:
- The use of Artificial Intelligence to Accelerate Bioengineering
- Biology and Bioengineering
- The Genome: What is is
- DNA and RNA: What to know
- Mapping the DNA of the Human Genome
- Next Gen DNA Sequencing
- Synthetic Biology
- Ethical Considerations of Bioengineering and Regulatory Compliance
- Quantum Biology
- Brain Machine Interface (BMI)
- Collaboration and Interdisciplinary Approaches
Use of Artificial Intelligence: AI is being increasingly utilized in biotech for accelerating drug discovery, identification of biomarkers, detection of human diseases like cancer, and for empowering humans to be better able to tap into existing knowledge. AI algorithms have been particularly effective in image classification and disease detection. Large Language Models and systems like OpenAI are being used in biotech to help researchers, academics and medical professionals. The list of use cases for AI is extensive. AI is contributing to almost every element of bioengineering discussed in this series of posts.
The Difference in Biology and Bioengineering: At its core, biology is the study of living organisms and their interactions with the environment. Bioengineering, on the other hand, is an interdisciplinary field that applies principles of biology, chemistry, and engineering to the development of products and technologies that improve human health and the environment. Bioengineering has also resulted in new ways to alter the genetic code itself (more on that below).
The Genome: The term “genome” refers to all an organization’s genes. In other words, the genome is the complete set of genetic information for an organism. Genes are the codes that tell cells how to function, specifically by telling them how to make proteins.
DNA: Genes and the genome are made of DNA, the stuff we all learn about in elementary school as the self-replicating code of life. DNA was first identified in the 1860’s, and the first rudimentary mapping of genes began in 1911. Since then, through discovery after discovery, researchers learned the functions of RNA (it serves as a messenger with instructions on how to build amino acids, helps synthesize proteins, helps catalyze formation of peptide bonds), and began to explore the many methods DNA and RNA leverage to replicate life. By the mid-1980’s enough foundational knowledge of DNA existed to turn mapping the human genome into an audacious goal, and the human genome project was kicked off in 1990 and completed in 2003 .
Mapping the DNA of the Human Genome: The human genome project resulted in genetic maps that indicate there are just over 20,000 human genes. They now have their locations identified in ways that are detailed enough to track how these basic inheritable instructions work in the development of human beings. Upon publication of the majority of the genome, genomic researcher Francis Collins noted that the genome could be thought of in terms of a book with multiple uses: “It’s a history book – a narrative of the journey of our species through time. It’s a shop manual, with an incredibly detailed blueprint for building every human cell. And it’s a transformative textbook of medicine, with insights that will give health care providers immense new powers to treat, prevent and cure disease.”
Next Gen DNA Sequencing: The state of the art in the field of genomics today is known as Next-Generation DNA Sequencing or NGS. This is a growing market area, which, according to ARK Investment Management, could see growth of up to 43% per year, growing to $21 Billion in revenues by 2024. Since that estimate was made pre-COVID, we have to assume this number could grow faster and larger.
Synthetic Biology: This is an interdisciplinary branch of biology and engineering that aims to fabricate biological components and systems. It is a broad, well developed field that is foundational to many of the other advancements we review in biological sciences. Scientists have already used these methods to produce synthetic life. In 2010 the world’s first synthetic life form, a single cell organism based on an existing bacterium using a synthetic genome. The resulting cell had “watermarks” written into it to identify it as synthetic. Synthetic Biology is also being used to grow replacement organs and soft tissue. Firms have also been founded that are using the methods of synthetic biology to produce specialty materials like polymers with application in other industries including manufacturing and the military.
Epigenetics: For the longest time, scientists felt your genes determined just about everything. But it turns out that some genes express themselves or become active because of things in the environment. This is the domain of epigenetics. Its study has transformed how we think about the genome. What you eat, what you drink, how much you sleep, how you exercise and many other environmental factors can influence you and your body through epigenetics. Research indicates that some types of diseases that people are predisposed to through genetics can be influenced by epigenetics, giving hope that the right kind of environmental changes can help beat many genetic diseases. The complexities of epigenetic influence hard to fathom. As an example, some research indicates that some people who drink green tea have less cancer. More research could determine whether this is coincidence or if something in the green tea triggers an epigenetic response that works with some and not others.
Ethical Considerations of Bioengineering and Regulatory Compliance: Bioengineering often raises ethical questions and regulatory challenges, particularly in areas like genetic modification, stem cell research, and human enhancement technologies. Business leaders in healthcare and research must navigate complex ethical landscapes and ensure compliance with regulatory standards, which can vary significantly between regions. Business leaders in other sectors of the economy should at least have a familiarity with bioethical principles since they will be on the mind of your workforce and may have an impact on decisions made regarding employee healthcare options.
Quantum Biology: Knowledge of quantum effects have been applied to medicine and healthcare for decades, with the greatest early example being the creation of the MRI machine based on knowledge of quantum scale behaviors. Now a greater application of quantum science to biological engineering is underway. New developments hold the potential of understanding more about how the machinery of cellular biology really works and what the role of quantum effects is, which means we should expect more breakthroughs in design of pharmaceuticals to improve and enhance life. (In 2023 the Nobel prize for Chemistry was awarded to a development from the 1980’s which is now used in Quantum Biology, Quantum Dots).
Brain-Machine Interface (BMI): BMI, sometimes called Brain-Computer Interface (BCI), is beginning to contribute to health outcomes and will soon becoming a widespread way of communicating and collaborating. BMI allows direct communication between the brain and external devices. The general approach is to interpret brain signals and translate them into commands that can operate software and hardware like computers or robotic brains. OODA has identified over 60 BMI projects, most of which are not using invasive methods, and many of which are showing promise in labs which indicates they hold great promise for restoring function and enhancing human capabilities, particularly for individuals with neurological disorders, such as paralysis or neurodegenerative diseases.
Collaboration and Interdisciplinary Approaches: Success in bioengineering often requires collaboration between scientists, engineers, business professionals, and other stakeholders. Any executives involved in bioengineering efforts should foster an environment that encourages interdisciplinary teamwork and continuous learning. Understanding the language and concepts of biology and bioengineering enables better communication with technical teams and contributes to more effective leadership. Additionally, building partnerships with research institutions, governmental agencies, and other companies can facilitate access to new technologies, funding opportunities, and emerging markets. This point is also critical for those providing solutions into the healthcare and research communities, since market opportunities are here.
The foundational concepts above can help executives in any sector of the economy better converse on topics of biology and bioengineering, both of which are rapidly evolving. As will be shown in the next posts in this series, the progress in these fields is occurring rapidly, with significant technological advancements already beginning to revolutionize medicine, agriculture, management of the environment and even mining. As we examine these topics further we will establish more of a business context, which should inform your strategic decision-making and enable a more competitive advantage compared to those who are not tracking this quickly moving field.
Related Technology Trends
Bioengineering, Health and Business: A follow on which dives deeper into this trend of bioengineering with a focus on the healthcare sector and business. See: Bioengineering, Health and Business.
Bioengineering Beyond Health: There are many revolutionary advancements that go beyond healthcare. Examine them at Bioengineering Beyond Health.
Contextualizing Advancements in Bioengineering To Your Business Operations: Here we dive more into the “so what” of the revolution in bio science with a focus on how to inform and change your business strategy. See: Contextualizing Advancements in Bioengineering To Your Business Operations
Technology Convergence and Market Disruption: Rapid advancements in technology are changing market dynamics and user expectations. See: Disruptive and Exponential Technologies.
The New Tech Trinity: Artificial Intelligence, BioTech, Quantum Tech: Will make monumental shifts in the world. This new Tech Trinity will redefine our economy, both threaten and fortify our national security, and revolutionize our intelligence community. None of us are ready for this. This convergence requires a deepened commitment to foresight and preparation and planning on a level that is not occurring anywhere. The New Tech Trinity.
Quantum Computing and Quantum Sensemaking: Quantum Computing, Quantum Security and Quantum Sensing insights to drive your decision-making process. Quantum Computing and Quantum Security
AI Discipline Interdependence: There are concerns about uncontrolled AI growth, with many experts calling for robust AI governance. Both positive and negative impacts of AI need assessment. See: Using AI for Competitive Advantage in Business.