Biology as Consumer Technology

18 Jan 2024 09:00h - 09:45h

Event report

The integration of biology with fast-evolving digital technologies is giving rise to products that are more efficient, sustainable and tailored to the individual.

How can we better prepare for a future where products are not just made but are grown, adapted and evolved with the consumer?

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Table of contents

Disclaimer: This is not an official record of the WEF session. The DiploAI system automatically generates these resources from the audiovisual recording. Resources are presented in their original format, as provided by the AI (e.g. including any spelling mistakes). The accuracy of these resources cannot be guaranteed. The official record of the session can be found on the WEF YouTube channel.

Full session report

Sarah Reisinger

Understanding the function and information carried by DNA and cells is crucial to create superior products and improve overall health. Sarah Reisinger shares this belief and aims to enhance consumers' health and understanding by analyzing DNA and cells. This emphasizes the importance of studying genetics and cellular biology, which has the potential to revolutionize various aspects of health and well-being.

The microbiome, consisting of a complex community of microorganisms residing in and on our bodies, varies across different body parts. It plays a vital role in physical and mental health, emphasizing the need to understand and regulate the microbiome. DSM-Ferminich is actively researching the modulation of the skin microbiome to enhance skin health. Such research could lead to the development of effective skincare treatments and products.

Climate change presents challenges for agriculture, including the cultivation of natural flavors like vanilla. DSM-Ferminich is conducting research to counter the scarcity of natural flavors caused by climate change. By leveraging biology, the organization aims to develop sustainable alternative products and solutions to meet the growing demand for flavors.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is a powerful tool that can create innovative and sustainable flavor profiles. AI expands the solution space, identifying new alternatives to traditional flavors. By analyzing receptor biology data and utilizing millions of data points, AI can understand taste and smell, enabling the discovery of new possibilities in the realm of flavors.

The intersection of AI and biology is gaining significance. With AI's ability to process and analyze vast amounts of biological data, it can unlock new insights and advancements in the field of biology. The discovery and understanding of unknown functions in the core elements required for creating life exemplify the significance of AI in unraveling biological mysteries.

Failure is an integral part of research and exploration. It is through failure that researchers learn and make progress. Research is not solely focused on immediate success but involves trial and error, leading to new discoveries and innovations.

The urgency exhibited towards addressing the COVID-19 pandemic underscores the need for similar urgency in addressing other global issues such as hunger, malnutrition, and sustainability. By prioritizing these issues and taking immediate action, significant progress can be made towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals and creating a better future for all.

Consumers should understand the importance and potential of biology in producing sustainable products. Biology holds key solutions for developing eco-friendly and sustainable alternatives to conventional products. Embracing biology in product development can help reduce environmental impact and ensure a healthier and more sustainable future.

In conclusion, comprehending DNA, cells, and the microbiome can lead to the creation of superior products and improvements in overall health. The intersection of AI and biology has the potential to revolutionize various fields, including flavor profiles and the study of unknown biological functions. Failure is an intrinsic part of research, and addressing urgent global issues requires the same level of urgency demonstrated during the COVID-19 pandemic. By embracing biology, consumers can contribute to the production of sustainable products and pave the way for a more promising future.

Noubar Afeyan

Scientific understanding, particularly in the field of biology, is largely limited, with most of our knowledge representing only a small fraction of the overall scenario. However, Artificial Intelligence (AI) offers unique capabilities in the field of biology. Unlike humans, AI does not attempt to simplify complex topics, allowing it to present vast amounts of data and train models, which can be used to make predictions. AI is seen as an enabler for augmented imagination in science, as it allows for bigger leaps and experiments that may not have been possible otherwise.

Creating economic value from advancements in biology can be challenging. However, businesses involved in the field can provide solutions for important issues such as disease cures or advancements in agriculture. These solutions are often complex and novel, which allow for protection against competitors. Nonetheless, predicting the market for scientific advancements proves to be difficult due to the long timelines involved. In some cases, the timeline for the development of drugs can span up to 10 years, while in agriculture, it can take up to 5 years. The uncertainties surrounding these timelines make it challenging to accurately forecast market demand.

Failures in the biological industry serve as cautionary tales for companies striving to survive. An example is the failure of Amaris, a well-known company in the industry, to commercialize its products effectively. This highlights the fact that success does not guarantee survival, and companies must remain vigilant and adaptable to changes in the market.

Survival in the market may require diversification rather than solely relying on innovation. Although being innovative and finding clever ways to secure funding is important, it does not guarantee a company's market status. Moreover, in commodity markets, innovation may not yield the desired results due to established competition.

The market often limits the application of new tools in biology outside of therapeutic uses. Biological products face competition from commodities that have been in the market for a long time, making them uneconomical. Innovations in the field of synthetic biology can only be lucrative if there is a premium value associated with them.

Uncertainty is a major aspect of the bio industry, driven by evolving technology and shifting market demands. The future of the industry is always uncertain, and companies must continuously adapt to stay relevant.

Financing and reducing cost models are crucial for the survival and success of companies in the biotech space. For instance, Amaris was able to finance itself long enough to reduce its cost model and thrive in the biotech sector.

In the biotech space, large companies should allow research and development (R&D) to play out and let failures fail while allowing successful innovations to drive the industry's growth. Startups, on the other hand, have the potential to disrupt during times of uncertainty when incumbents are at a loss. Though even companies that appear to be thriving in the biotech space must always watch out for survival, as continual investment in growth can unknowingly push them to the brink of loss.

Noubar Afeyan, an expert in the field, believes in the value of innovation and breakthroughs in biotechnology. Moderna, a company that Afeyan co-founded, demonstrated this value by testing and developing various human vaccines even before the COVID-19 pandemic. Afeyan highlights the complexity of the biotech sector, which often prevents generalist investors from fully understanding and investing in the field.

The biotech industry is marked by a struggle between incumbents and insurgents. Incumbents, in an effort to maintain their position, tend to fix the ecosystem in their favor, making it difficult for startups to compete. However, uncertainty provides an opportunity for startups to make an impact.

Overall, uncertainty plays a crucial role in driving innovation and progress. While humans tend to avoid uncertainty, embracing it can lead to unique positions and value creation. Additionally, it is important for businesses to seize the right opportunities, as timing can greatly impact their success.

AI development in biology holds great potential for advancing our understanding of how things work in the field. It is believed that the next few years will provide further insights and demonstrate the capabilities of AI in biology.

mRNA represents just the beginning of programmable medicines, indicating a shift towards more tailored and precise treatments.

Furthermore, AI and language models can contribute to better communication by describing scientific breakthroughs in a way that is more easily understood by humans.

In conclusion, scientific understanding, particularly in biology, remains limited. However, AI offers unique capabilities that can augment scientific imagination and enable predictions based on vast amounts of data. Creating economic value from biology requires businesses to provide solutions for important issues and navigate the challenges of market unpredictability. Failures in the industry serve as cautionary tales, emphasizing the need for companies to diversify and adapt. Uncertainty, financing, and reducing cost models are crucial considerations for survival and success in the biotech sector. The complexity of the biotech industry often leads to misunderstanding and oversight. Embracing uncertainty and seizing the right opportunities can lead to unique positions and value creation. Lastly, AI development, mRNA, and improved communication through language models all hold potential for further advancements and breakthroughs in the field of biology.

John Schultz

Hewlett-Packard Enterprise (HPE) is a prominent player in the supercomputing and artificial intelligence (AI) industry. With six of the world's top ten fastest supercomputers, HPE has established itself as a leader in this field. They have powered the majority of AI models through their platform, contributing to the development and advancement of AI technology. In addition, HPE is actively engaged in creating software that enhances the training of AI models, enabling them to train faster and more reliably.

The application of AI has the potential to bring notable benefits across various sectors. By leveraging AI, businesses and industries can achieve greater efficiency, resulting in improved outcomes. This technology can optimize processes, automate tasks, and enhance decision-making, leading to increased productivity and cost-effectiveness. Moreover, AI advancements have the potential to significantly improve individuals' quality of life. From healthcare to infrastructure development, AI can enhance services, improve accessibility, and create opportunities for economic growth.

However, it is important to acknowledge that there are risks and downsides associated with AI. The scarcity of technology chips is a notable challenge, leading to increased costs and potentially unaligned decision-making. The demand for these chips far exceeds the supply, creating a battle for resources. Access to AI models and technology can be limited, raising concerns about equity and fairness. Choices made about the availability of technology may not align with desired choices, potentially creating imbalances in access and opportunity.

Furthermore, the high energy consumption of data centers that support AI infrastructure poses environmental challenges. Data centers are significant consumers of electrical power, and the growing use of AI and larger computing machines exacerbates this issue. As sustainability becomes increasingly important, addressing the environmental impact of AI infrastructure is crucial.

The geopolitical landscape also plays a role in the future of AI and technology. The interconnected nature of supply chains requires materials and components from around the world. Geopolitical instability and discussions of decoupling these supply chains can have a significant impact on the availability and accessibility of technologies. Disruptions in the supply chains can impede technological advancements and hinder innovation.

Despite these challenges, John Schultz remains optimistic about the long-term future of the life science industry. While there are obstacles to overcome, he remains confident that the industry will flourish. Maintaining a human-centric approach to AI systems is emphasized as vital. The focus should not be on machines taking over, but rather on the augmentation of human intelligence through AI. By ensuring that humanity remains at the core of AI systems, we can leverage technology to improve the way people live and work while avoiding potential ethical concerns.

In conclusion, Hewlett-Packard Enterprise is a significant player in the supercomputing and AI industry, with their powerful supercomputers and AI platform. AI has immense potential to bring efficiency, advancements in the quality of life, and better outcomes across various sectors. However, risks such as the scarcity of technology chips, high energy consumption, and geopolitical instability need to be addressed. Despite these challenges, optimism remains for the long-term future of the life science industry. It is crucial to keep humanity at the center of AI systems and use AI to enhance how people live and work responsibly.

Dror Bin

The analysis examines various arguments and stances surrounding the concepts of bioconvergence, AI, and biotechnology. One argument posits that AI and biology are distinct revolutions, with each field having its own unique advancements and impacts. On the other hand, there is a view that digital transformation is shifting towards biological transformation, highlighting the increasing importance of biology in driving technological advancements.

Bioconvergence is shown to encompass a wide range of fields, including computer science, nanotechnology, and health tech. This interdisciplinary approach is seen as having the potential to revolutionize industries such as healthcare, food, and agriculture. Israel is highlighted as a country with innovative companies that are implementing bioconvergence in creative and impactful ways. For instance, there are companies developing nanorobots for targeted therapy and 3D printing human organs for implantation.

However, there are significant challenges to overcome in the field of bioconvergence. These challenges include scientific complexities, the commercialization process, securing funding, scaling up operations, navigating regulations, and ensuring consumer adaptation. Successful bioconvergence requires addressing these challenges effectively.

The commercialization of bioconvergence is strongly supported, with the innovation agency of the Israeli government creating an environment conducive to startup innovation in this space. Additionally, there is a call for more investment in biotechnology, as it is seen as the new frontier of innovation. Some investors are warned against avoiding investments in biotech, as this is considered a mistake.

Consumer education and acceptance play a crucial role in the adoption of biotech innovations such as lab-created meat. While processed food has been widely acknowledged as unhealthy, there is a need for re-education to highlight the potential health and environmental benefits of lab-created meat. Early engagement with consumers is seen as vital in promoting acceptance and understanding consumer concerns and preferences.

Cultured meat is presented as a healthier and more environmentally sustainable alternative to traditional livestock farming. The production process of cultured meat is compared to that of producing pharmaceutical pills, emphasizing the cleanliness and regulation involved. Additionally, cultured meat production results in products with fewer antibiotics and other substances associated with traditional livestock farming. It is also noted that cultured meat is less costly than traditional farming methods, making it an economically attractive option.

Notably, the analysis highlights the importance of investors taking more risks, as venture funds often shy away from risk. It is suggested that increased risk-taking by investors can lead to more innovations and advancements in various industries. Furthermore, it is advocated that governments should de-risk the business environment to attract investment and foster economic growth.

In conclusion, the analysis reveals a range of arguments and stances related to bioconvergence, AI, and biotechnology. While AI and biology are viewed as distinct revolutions, there is a shift towards biological transformation within the realm of digital transformation. The potential of bioconvergence is acknowledged, but significant challenges must be overcome for successful implementation. The commercialization of bioconvergence is encouraged, alongside increased investment in biotechnology. Consumer education and acceptance, particularly in relation to lab-created meat, are identified as critical factors. Notably, greater risk-taking by investors and supportive government policies are seen as necessary for further innovation and economic growth.

Amy Webb

The convergence of artificial intelligence (AI) and biology is having a profound impact on the field of biology. New advances in AI are unlocking unprecedented amounts of data, revolutionising research in this domain. AI allows for new tools to read, edit, and write DNA, holding immense potential for advancements in biotechnology. This intersection of AI and biology is accelerating critical technologies and opening up new possibilities for scientific breakthroughs.

However, this convergence also brings both opportunities and risks that need careful consideration. AI provides powerful tools for reading, editing, and writing DNA, leading to significant advancements in biotechnology. These advancements enable the creation of products and services grown through biotechnology, revolutionising industries and reshaping business models and consumer preferences.

Yet, the convergence of AI and biology also raises concerns and potential risks. It is crucial to address risks such as potential misuse of genetic information, ethical concerns surrounding genetic modifications, and the impact on privacy and data security. Panel discussions and expert opinions aim to responsibly pursue the convergence of AI and biology while addressing these risks.

The microbiome, the microorganisms that live in and on our bodies, is another area impacted by the convergence of AI and biology. Research shows the microbiome's crucial role in physical and mental health. Companies like DSM-Ferminich work to modulate the microbiome for better health outcomes. Understanding the microbiome's role and leveraging AI in this field can lead to significant advancements in healthcare and overall well-being.

The advancements in bioconvergence in Israel are noteworthy. With approximately 100 startups using bioconvergence in their products and services, Israel has become a hub for innovation in this field. The government's support fosters the growth of these startups, further driving advancements in bioconvergence.

However, Amy Webb, a prominent analyst, raises concerns about the sustainable commercialization of biology-based consumer products. She highlights the struggles of Amaris, a well-known company in the biological technology field. These concerns indicate the need for careful consideration and planning when commercializing biology-based products.

In addition, public perception and trust play a vital role in the adoption of genetically modified and cultured food products. Amy Webb emphasizes the importance of addressing trust issues surrounding these products. She refers to public reactions to the first cloned sheep, Dolly, and raises curiosity about potential reactions to the sale of cultured beef. Addressing these trust issues is crucial for the successful introduction and acceptance of genetically modified and cultured food products.

In conclusion, the convergence of AI and biology accelerates critical technologies in the field. This intersection holds immense potential for advancements in biotechnology, healthcare, and various industries. However, risks and ethical concerns must be addressed. Public perception and trust are crucial factors in the successful adoption of genetically modified and cultured food products. Continued research, responsible implementation, and open dialogue are necessary to navigate the opportunities and challenges presented by the convergence of AI and biology.

Chris Abbott

The analysis examines Chris Abbott's support for synthetic biology and biologics in agriculture. Abbott believes that the technology used in synthetic biology has the potential to be more nimble and cost-effective compared to traditional fixed asset or synthetic businesses, ultimately leading to a reduction in the cost model. He argues that these technologies should eventually stand on their own, without subsidies or artificial support, and be able to compete with traditional offerings in the market.

In the agricultural sector, Abbott's company, PivotBio, specializes in developing biologics, specifically microbes or bacteria, that are used as a seed coating. This approach aims to reduce the use of synthetic nitrogen in crop production. Abbott advocates for the use of biologics as a means of achieving sustainable agriculture practices and reducing dependency on synthetic fertilizers.

It is acknowledged that synthetic nitrogen fertilizers are crucial for food production, as they play a significant role in achieving high agricultural yields and ensuring food security. However, Abbott supports the continued use of synthetic fertilizers while also advocating for the integration of synthetic and biological solutions in the industry. He believes that collaboration and partnerships are essential for addressing challenges in the fertilizer sector.

Abbott also emphasizes the importance of reducing waste in the agricultural system, highlighting the use of biologics to minimize waste as microbes live on the plant's root system without any associated waste.

Additionally, the analysis underscores the significance of technology and partnerships in agriculture. Abbott notes that the industry is highly technology-driven, with a significant percentage of US farmers using GPS-guided tractors. He emphasizes the need for technology that provides value, reduces costs, and outperforms previous solutions. Abbott promotes collaboration and partnerships as essential for scaling solutions effectively in the agricultural sector, underlining the importance of proper government frameworks and risk appetite.

In conclusion, the analysis presents a range of perspectives on the use of synthetic biology and biologics in agriculture. Chris Abbott supports the adoption of these technologies to reduce costs, dependency on synthetic nitrogen, and waste in the agricultural system. He advocates for collaboration, technology integration, and partnerships to address challenges in the industry. While acknowledging the necessity of synthetic nitrogen fertilizers for food production, there is also a growing need for sustainable alternatives to ensure the long-term viability of the fertilizer industry.


Amy Webb

Speech speed

196 words per minute

Speech length

2342 words

Speech time

718 secs


Chris Abbott

Speech speed

203 words per minute

Speech length

1270 words

Speech time

376 secs


Dror Bin

Speech speed

171 words per minute

Speech length

1290 words

Speech time

453 secs


John Schultz

Speech speed

196 words per minute

Speech length

917 words

Speech time

281 secs


Noubar Afeyan

Speech speed

224 words per minute

Speech length

2612 words

Speech time

698 secs


Sarah Reisinger

Speech speed

218 words per minute

Speech length

889 words

Speech time

244 secs