How mRNA-based therapies could change the world, Biden’s renewables boost, and the semi shortage

By Thomas Rice | More Articles by Thomas Rice


Hope you had a relaxing Easter break.

Here’s your wrap of the latest technology, innovation, and finance news.

? Health

One fascinating area of healthcare right now is the potential development of mRNA-based therapies beyond the COVID-19 vaccines. The Atlantic explores how mRNA technology could change the world.

But mRNA’s story likely will not end with COVID-19: Its potential stretches far beyond this pandemic. This year, a team at Yale patented a similar RNA-based technology to vaccinate against malaria, perhaps the world’s most devastating disease. Because mRNA is so easy to edit, Pfizer says that it is planning to use it against seasonal flu, which mutates constantly and kills hundreds of thousands of people around the world every year. The company that partnered with Pfizer last year, BioNTech, is developing individualized therapies that would create on-demand proteins associated with specific tumors to teach the body to fight off advanced cancer. In mouse trials, synthetic-mRNA therapies have been shown to slow and reverse the effects of multiple sclerosis.

“I’m fully convinced now even more than before that mRNA can be broadly transformational,” Özlem Türeci, BioNTech’s chief medical officer, told me. “In principle, everything you can do with protein can be substituted by mRNA.”

A newly developed hydrogen successfully reverted cancer cells to cancer stem cellswithin 24 hours, in six different types of human cancer (see the paper).

This study paves the way for research into drugs that can target cancer stem cells. “In the future, the DN gel could be used to enhance cancer cell type diagnosis and to produce personalized medicines, which could improve the prognosis of cancer patients,” said Shinya Tanaka.

Researchers at BrainGate have, for the first time, demonstrated the use of a high-bandwidth wireless brain-computer interface (see the paper).

? Robotics

The organic xenobots from early in 2020 have been upgraded (see the paper).

The same team has now created life forms that self-assemble a body from single cells, do not require muscle cells to move, and even demonstrate the capability of recordable memory. The new generation Xenobots also move faster, navigate different environments, and have longer lifespans than the first edition, and they still have the ability to work together in groups and heal themselves if damaged.

Boston Dynamics gave 60 Minutes a rare look at how it created some of the most agile robots in the world (13-minute video).


Boston Dynamics also unveiled Stretch, a new warehouse robot that can shift 800 boxes per hour.


Also entering the warehouse robotics fray is Ambi Robotics, a robotics startup that emerged from stealth last week with a $6.1 million raise. Berkeley roboticist Ken Goldberg co-founded the startup.

“It’s one thing to prove that you can empty the bin—that’s interesting on one level,” says Goldberg. But it’s another thing to do it quickly and reliably. Goldberg says that Ambi Robotics’ system can do this sorting job twice as fast as humans. He adds that its products are not meant to replace human workers, but to supplement them. “This is just one piece of a pipeline that happens with packages,” Goldberg says. “And all throughout that pipeline, there’s steps that need human intervention.”



⚙️ Mobility

Apple CEO Tim Cook hinted at the company’s work on autonomous vehicles.

“The autonomy itself is a core technology, in my view. If you sort of step back, the car, in a lot of ways, is a robot. An autonomous car is a robot. And so there’s lots of things you can do with autonomy. And we’ll see what Apple does,” Cook said in an interview released Monday with Kara Swisher on the “Sway” podcast.

“We investigate so many things internally. Many of them never see the light of day. I’m not saying that one will not,” Cook added.

Waymo’s CEO has stepped down.

In a blog post explaining his decision to resign as CEO, but remain with Waymo as an advisor, Krafcik wrote, “now, with the fully autonomous Waymo One ride-hailing service open to all in our launch area of Metro Phoenix, and with the fifth generation of the Waymo Driver being prepared for deployment in ride-hailing and goods delivery, it’s a wonderful opportunity for me to pass the baton to Tekedra and Dmitri as co-CEOs.”

Plus, a developer of autonomous truck technology, raised another $220 million on top of the $200 million they raised in February.

? Batteries and EVs

Xiaomi is entering the electric car fray with a new $10 billion investment over the next ten years.

The Chinese technology firm, which is the world’s third-largest smartphone maker, is jumping into an incredibly competitive space in China.

Not only is Xiaomi competing with established automakers in the country, such a Geely and Warren Buffet-backed BYD, but also upstarts such as Nio and Xpeng Motors.

Apple announced it would build a grid-scale energy storage project in Californiacapable of storing 240 megawatt-hours of energy.

The project is intended to store energy so that the energy produced by the solar farm can be used during the night as well as during the day, and Cupertino says the project will store enough energy to “power over 7,000 homes for one day.” Apple plans to share some of what it learns from the project with other companies, executives have said.

? Renewables

EVs and renewables are at the heart of Biden’s $2 trillion infrastructure investment.

The Biden administration announced plans to vastly increase offshore wind power usealong the East Coast.

The plan sets a goal of deploying 30,000 megawatts of offshore wind turbines in coastal waters nationwide by 2030, enough to power 10 million homes.

The Biden administration also believes that nuclear energy should be part of the clean energy standard (uranium stocks rallied on the remarks).

The US Department of Energy wants to cut solar costs by more than half by 2030.

To that end, DOE is accelerating its utility-scale solar 2030 cost target by five years – setting a new goal of driving down the current cost of 4.6 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh) to 3 cents/kWh by 2025 and 2 cents/kWh by 2030.

The world’s biggest solar company has joined the hydrogen market.

The Australia Institute’s new report suggests that renewables plus batteries offers Australia the same energy security as coal (see the report).

Cass said the latest research showed that renewable energy was capable of providing sufficient system security to support the grid and Australians were “ready for that transition to take place”.

“Batteries can deliver far more system security than a coal generator of the same power capacity.”

? Blockchain and Crypto

One of the authors of the NFT protocol for Ethereum, William Entriken, says cryptocurrencies must tackle their carbon emissions.

Entriken contrasts cryptocurrencies with carbon offsetting, in which people pay to have carbon emissions removed from the atmosphere. “Bitcoin is the opposite of that. When you purchase bitcoin you’re purchasing carbon creation credits,” says Entriken. “When you purchase the $50,000 [of bitcoin] somebody else is directly putting that much carbon into the atmosphere. Ethereum is the same.”

He has called for Ethereum to switch from a proof of work (PoW) approach to a proof of stake (PoS) approach, which would remove the need for intense calculations by allowing the owners of existing coins to control the network, rather than the owners of the computing power. It is estimated this could cut the total energy demands of Ethereum by 99 per cent. “You have to switch to proof of stake. Proof of work should be illegal,” says Entriken.

? Chips and Computing

The CEO of GlobalFoundries, Tom Caulfield, says the semiconductor shortage could last through 2022.

But Caulfield says the industry shortages, specifically for the automotive world, aren’t because of demand for leading node chips. The shortages are for other parts cars need, like radar chips, which don’t necessarily require the most advanced manufacturing available at the time.

“The auto industry is not having a chip shortage because it doesn’t have CPUs. No one’s saying I can’t build enough computers, it’s all the other chips,” Caulfield said.

TSMC is investing $100 billion over the next three years to increase semiconductor output.

The planned investment is a record for the world’s largest contract chip maker as well as the broader industry, analysts said, at a time when chips are in short supply around the world. In a statement, the company said it expects strong demand over the next several years, a trend driven by growth in 5G and high computing capabilities and accelerated by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Arm introduced Armv9, its first major architectural update in a decade.

In a press briefing, Arm CEO Simon Segars said Armv9 will be the base for the next 300 billion Arm-based chips. Arm’s customers have shipped more than 180 billion chips to date, and those chips touch more than 70% of the world’s population, Segars said.

? Cybersecurity

A new report by Canalys suggests that 2020 was a record year for cybersecurity breaches and compromised records despite cybersecurity spending growing by 10%.

IBM thinks that fully homomorphic encryption (FHE) is nearly ready for prime time. FHE is a security process that allows data to be used in applications without it first being decrypted.

Companies are potentially interested in FHE because it would allow them to apply AI to data, such as from finance and health, while being able to promise users that the company has no way to actually view or access the underlying data.

? Finance

Looking to buy a house? You could be bidding against a pension fund searching for yield.

D.R. Horton Inc. built 124 houses in Conroe, Texas, rented them out and then put the whole community, Amber Pines at Fosters Ridge, on the block. A Who’s Who of investors and home-rental firms flocked to the December sale. The winning $32 million bid came from an online property-investing platform, Fundrise LLC, which manages more than $1 billion on behalf of about 150,000 individuals.

The country’s most prolific home builder booked roughly twice what it typically makes selling houses to the middle class—an encouraging debut in the business of selling entire neighborhoods to investors.

Individual investors have started to trade less.

The decline in enthusiasm marks a sharp reversal from just a few months ago, when individual investors’ frenetic activity took center stage in financial markets. As shares of “meme stocks” soared in January, millions of small investors piled in, kicking an already robust retail-investing trend into overdrive.

Deliveroo listed in London, and its shares subsequently tanked.

Deliveroo, which is backed by Amazon, saw its shares sink around 30% in early deals compared to the issue price, before trimming some losses. Shares were down 26% by the market close.

Coursera began trading on the NYSE and ended its first day up 36%.

? Alternative Foods

The skeleton of spinach leaves could be used as a suitable scaffold for lab-grown meat (see the paper).

This time around, the team used the veiny, decellularized spinach leaves as a scaffold for cow precursor meat cells. In this environment, the cells remained viable for up to 14 days before differentiating into muscle mass. While still an early proof of concept, the scientists believe the demonstration of their edible, plant-based scaffold lays the groundwork for further study, and may help shape the future of lab-grown meat products down the track.

? Virtual and Augmented Reality

Microsoft will make augmented reality headsets for the US Army in a deal worth $21.9 billion over 10 years.

“The program delivers enhanced situational awareness, enabling information sharing and decision-making in a variety of scenarios.”

Augmented Reality headsets by MicrosoftFacebook says that Oculus Quest 2 has now outsold all of its predecessors combined.

? Wireless

A team from Georgia Tech have come up with a card that harvests electromagnetic energy from 5G signals for wireless charging.

⚡ Other Snippets

Mobile game spending was up 25% to $22.2bn in the 1st Quarter of 2021 according to Sensor Tower.

Virgin Galactic debuted its new spaceship, VSS Imagine.

aerial view of airplaneA wearable “crown” boosts users’ productivity with brain analysis.

Apple has led a $50 million investment in UnitedMasters, which runs a distribution platform for independent music artists.

“Steve Stoute and UnitedMasters provide creators with more opportunities to advance their careers and bring their music to the world,” Apple executive Eddy Cue said in a statement. “The contributions of independent artists play a significant role in driving the continued growth and success of the music industry, and UnitedMasters, like Apple, is committed to empowering creators.”

The asteroid that killed the dinosaurs created the Amazon rain forest.

CNBC discusses whether Americans can be forced to get the Covid-19 vaccine (12-minute video).

Have a great week,


About Thomas Rice

Thomas Rice is the portfolio manager for the Perpetual Global Innovation Share Fund, based in Sydney, Australia. You can find him on Twitter at @thomasrice_au.

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