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AllianceBernstein: Synthetic Biology

AllianceBernstein: Synthetic Biology

Published 04-01-22

Submitted by AllianceBernstein


Sarah Tunnell: Ed, thanks so much for taking some time today. I know you recently put out a very detailed paper on the topic of synthetic biology, but could you give us a short overview into what that really is?

Ed Bryan: For millennia, people have harnessed synthetic biology, have harnessed nature, brewing beer; you’re using nature to produce things. Synthetic biology is accelerating that. It’s building on these processes from nature that we’ve used for thousands of years. Nature has also given us a very efficient and powerful programming language—DNA. DNA is like the software of life. And so you can use the cell and DNA and make changes to that, to program cells to produce almost anything. There’s a study that McKinsey published last year that estimated that more than 60% of the physical inputs to our economy could be produced using synthetic biology.

Sarah Tunnell: Where do we see it? Is it something that already exists today?

Ed Bryan: Synthetic biology isn’t science fiction. It’s around us. It’s in many of the things that we use today on a daily basis. So, take cosmetics. One of the key ingredients of cosmetics is a compound called squalene. Squalene was traditionally harvested from the livers of deep sea sharks. And there’s a company that found a way to alter the genome of a yeast cell, so that the yeast cell will produce squalene, which can then be used in cosmetics. There’s a company based in California that, today, can take CO2 and methane from the air, and use a type of cell, that they found in the ocean, that can produce a resin that is made and molded into forks and knives.

Sarah Tunnell: Synthetic biology, really, isn’t something that we’ve heard so much about in the past. Why is this something that you’re talking about today?

Ed Bryan: The price of sequencing a genome has declined a millionfold, from hundreds of millions of dollars, down to just hundreds of dollars. So that price decline has enabled researchers to sequence genomes and understand so much more about genetics. There’s also other technologies as well. So, actually creating new DNA from scratch has enabled an explosion of different types of experiments to understand what genomics means. And then, another very significant development recently, has been AI and machine learning technologies. You need to have these data processing technologies to make sense of genomics. And, so, it’s this confluence of technologies that has accelerated discoveries in this space.

Sarah Tunnell: If you’re an investor looking at this space, what are some of the things that you should be considering?

Ed Bryan: I think from an investor perspective, one of the key considerations is having a cross-sector approach. So many of the initial applications of synthetic biology started off in the healthcare sector. And, because of the rapidly declining costs of synthetic biology, the technology is moving to other industries. There will be opportunities for outsource service providers who will help some of these companies grow and mature and improve their profitability.

Sarah Tunnell: Right, what are some of the risks that investors should be considering, if this is a space that they’re interested in?

Ed Bryan: So, for consumer adoption, there is a risk that consumers are put off by the prospect of synthetic biology. Large consumer packaged goods companies are starting to adopt synthetic biology to make their products. And those companies are experts at educating consumers, at marketing around these types of new products. So their adoption is, for us, a positive sign. The second key risk is around regulation. And what we find is that countries around the world are taking a proactive approach to areas that are connected to the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Countries are actually taking a proactive approach to encouraging the growth of the synthetic biology industry.

Sarah Tunnell: What does synthetic biology mean to investors specifically focused on sustainability?

Ed Bryan: Consumers and companies and governments want solutions right now to address sustainability, and synthetic biology can help them achieve that.

Sarah Tunnell: How far does it go? What are some of the futuristic applications of synthetic biology that we haven’t even thought of yet?

Ed Bryan: I don’t know if you saw the movie, The Martian? Matt Damon was trying to grow plants on the surface of Mars. If he had a synthetic biology lab, he could literally design the plant to match and thrive in the Mars microenvironment. So, now you’re talking about terraforming the surface of Mars. You could design a plant to release oxygen into the environment—make it hospitable for humans. The bottom line here is that synthetic biology isn’t science fiction. It’s in many of the products that we consume right now.

Read our white paper: The Synthetic Biology Revolution: Investing in the Science of Sustainability

View original content here.

About AllianceBernstein
AllianceBernstein is a leading global investment management firm that offers high-quality research and diversified investment services to institutional investors, individuals and private wealth clients in major world markets.

As of September 30, 2021, including both the general partnership and limited partnership interests in AllianceBernstein, AllianceBernstein Holding owned approximately 36.1% of AllianceBernstein and Equitable Holdings, Inc. ("EQH"), directly and through various subsidiaries, owned an approximate 64.7% economic interest in AllianceBernstein.

Additional information about AB may be found on our website,

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AllianceBernstein (AB) is a leading global investment management firm that offers high-quality research and diversified investment services to institutional investors, individuals, and private wealth clients in major world markets. We believe corporate responsibility, responsible investing and stewardship are intertwined. To be effective stewards of our clients’ assets, we strive to invest responsibly—assessing, engaging on and integrating material issues, including environmental, social and governance (ESG), and climate change considerations in most of our actively managed strategies. We also believe that strive to hold ourselves as a firm to similar practices that we ask of issues. Our stewardship practices, investment strategy and decision-making are guided by our purpose, mission and values.

Our purpose—pursue insight that unlocks opportunity—inspires our firm to act responsibly. While opportunity means something different to each of our stakeholders; it always means considering the unique goals of each stakeholder. AB’s mission is to help our clients define and achieve their investment goals, explicitly stating what we do to unlock opportunity for our clients. We became a signatory to the Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI) in 2011. This began our journey to formalize our commitment to identify responsible ways to unlock opportunities for our clients through integrating material ESG factors throughout most of our actively managed equity and fixed-income client accounts, funds and strategies. AB also engages issuers where it believes the engagement is in the best financial interest of its clients.

Because we are an active manager, our differentiated insights drive our ability to deliver alpha and design innovative investment solutions. ESG and climate issues are important elements in forming insights and in presenting potential risks and opportunities that can have an effect on the performance of the companies and issuers that we invest in and the portfolios that we build.

Our values provide a framework for the behaviors and actions that deliver on our purpose and mission. Values align our actions. Each value emerges from the firm’s collective character—yet is also aspirational.

  • Invest in One Another means that we have a strong organizational culture where diversity is celebrated and mentorship is critical to our success. When we invest in one another, we empower our employees to reach their potential, so that they can help our clients realize theirs. This enables us to partner with clients to design and deliver improved investment outcomes.
  • Strive for Distinctive Knowledge means that we collaboratively identify creative solutions to clients’ economic, ESG and climate- related investment challenges through our expertise in a wide range of investment disciplines, close collaboration among our investment experts and creative solutions.
  • Speak with Courage and Conviction informs how we engage our AB colleagues and issuers. We seek to learn from other parts of our business to strengthen our own views. And we engage issuers for insight and action by sharing ideas and best practices.
  • Act with Integrity—Always is the bedrock of our relationships and has specific meaning for our business. Unlike many other asset managers, we’re singularly focused on providing asset management and research to our clients. We don’t engage in activities that could be distracting, or create conflicts—such as investment banking, insurance writing, commercial banking or proprietary trading for our own account. We are unconflicted and fully accountable.

As of September 30, 2023, AB had $669B in assets under management, $458B of which were ESG-integrated. Additional information about AB may be found on our website,

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