I’ve just gotten a glimpse of an already-existing technology that could change the course of history.
Big statement, I know.
The technology isn’t quite ready for prime time.
Heck, I’m not even sure if I want to see this technology commercialized.
It’s too early to say what will happen. But there is a worse-case scenario that EVERYBODY should take seriously.
By worse case, I mean it could spell the end of human existence as we know it.
On the spectrum of bad scenarios, this one is a doozy.
Then again, this technology could possibly save mankind from extinction by helping us spread the human race throughout the universe.
There’s a lot at stake with this kind of technology. It’s technology that startups will continue to pioneer in the years to come.
But as an investor, you need to ask yourself the same questions about groundbreaking technology that you would ask about any startup. Let me explain.
A biosequencing machine is sent to Mars. Its sensors pick up a life form. It then transmits its genetic code back to Earth. A bioconverter in a high-security lab takes the code and reconstructs an alien life.
It could be a scene ripped out of the Alien movie franchise. We all know what happens next. Hollywood scriptwriters would have the alien escape the lab and begin wreaking holy hell.
But this is just science fiction, right?
For now, yes. But for how much longer?
A rough precursor of this technology already exists. And something not all that dissimilar from this scenario already took place.
Back in 2013, in the Mojave Desert, NASA scientists and a small high-tech company loaded up a mobile lab with equipment and chemicals, isolated some samples and successfully sequenced them.
The company helping out NASA was Synthetic Genomics (SGI). The lab equipment used was an early version of SGI’s current and more sophisticated digital-to-biological converter.
The Ability to Fax Near-Life From Point A to Point B
The device consists of several small machines and lab robots. They’re connected to each other on a cart-like apparatus.
SGI’s BioXp 3200, a commercial DNA printer, forms the heart of the digital-to-biological converter. It takes transmitted digital code and prints out DNA, RNA, proteins and viruses.
It does this without human intervention. It’s the first time this has ever been achieved automatically.
Most biologists do not consider a virus to be alive. So SGI’s converter cannot print life… yet.
But it’s making progress toward that end.
Last year, SGI created a “minimal cell” that could serve as a kind of blank slate to accept new genetic instructions. Since this minimal cell is the simplest form of life, SGI scientists are hoping it will accept printed life forms.
Which still leaves a significant obstacle on the path to commercial use…
DNA strands from SGI’s converter suffer from errors or random mutations.
SGI has to solve this before it can make vaccines or pharmaceuticals.
The company has its work cut out for it. But it’s conceivable that one day, it could be sending these converters into space.
From there, it’s not hard to imagine transmitting life forms between planets.
And ultimately? Who knows?
Seeding the universe with the faxed blueprint of the human genome is merely the flip side of the nightmarish Alien scenario.
Meanwhile, Back on Earth…
This is exciting technology. With mind-boggling implications.
But is it the kind of opportunity you should invest in?
This is just one piece of SGI’s offerings. SGI provides a number of real-world solutions in synthetic biology and synthetic genomics.
But let’s assume for a moment that the bioconverter was SGI’s only product.
How should you treat impactful futuristic technology like SGI’s?
After all, it’s not exactly a top priority right now to sprinkle the universe with the human genome, is it?
Same Questions Apply
You should ask the same questions you’d ask any startup…
What need is being addressed?
Who’s going to pay for it?
How will the company survive in the short term?
This last question is important. If the company can’t survive, the other questions don’t matter.
For SGI, there are possible commercial uses to evaluate, like transmitting biological information from sites of a disease outbreak to vaccine manufacturers.
The viruses could be quickly made by a bioconverter.
The converter-printed viruses could form the seed virus stock.
But is that providing enough value? Is this need being addressed effectively?
It would be just one step in providing enough of a vaccine for a country or region. For example, the viruses that go into flu shots are grown by trillions of chicken eggs, which takes at least half a year.
A more practical use could be smaller versions of these machines at patients’ bedsides, printing out personalized medicines on demand.
But how soon could this be achieved?
Right now, the bioconverter occupies about the same space as a Fiat 500 car. That’s a lot of shrinkage that needs to be done!
The short term sounds too ambitious to me.
Vision is great. But it doesn’t pay the bills.
Even if you’re a visionary investor willing to invest in visionary founders, you still have to sweat the details. You still have to take a hard look at what the technology can achieve and when.
It’s not easy.
Their markets haven’t been formed. End use is still vague. Years to monetization can run into the double digits.
But you have to try. It can be well worth it.
These “out of this world” technologies often provide huge upside potential.
My partner Adam and I have done our share of investing in futuristic technology. For example, we’ve recommended startups featuring Star Wars-like robots (Knightscope), first of its kind virtual reality gaming technology (Virtuix), and cloud technology that combines chromatography with smartphones to diagnose dozens of diseases (Reliant).
And now we have another futuristic technology startup we’re lining up for our First Stage Investor members.
The upside is compelling, to say the least.
Every portfolio should have a couple of these startups, because when they hit, the profits can be dazzling…
Just like the technology itself.
Invest early and well,
Founder, Early Investing