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1. Proteomics Could Be the Next ‘Omics Frontier

The ‘omics revolution describes how technology is transforming our understanding of the fundamental building blocks of life. Starting with the Human Genome Project more than 20 years ago, next-generation DNA sequencing accelerated the genomics revolution. Thanks to recent research breakthroughs, next generation sequencing (NGS) instruments can study the transcriptome—the collection of RNA molecules in an organism. The natural next step for the ‘omics revolution, in our view, is proteomics—the analysis of proteins.

Proteomics involves the study of the three-dimensional structure and sequence of protein molecules. Improvements in mass-spectrometry and novel techniques like Cryo-EM are helping researchers identify the structure of proteins. A few weeks ago, Google’s DeepMind shocked the world with AlphaFold (v2), a neural-network-based algorithm capable of converting a protein sequence into an accurate structural prediction.

Absent still is the ability to develop high-throughput, high-accuracy next-generation protein sequencing (NGPS). In our view, NGPS is lagging behind NGS because of several engineering obstacles. Among them are:

  • The proteome could have 1,000,000 unique molecules while the transcriptome has 100,000 and the genome 20,000 (genes).
  • The proteome is changing constantly inside our bodies, both tissue-to-tissue and time-to-time, while the genome is fairly conserved.
  • Proteins include 20 unique molecules (amino acids) while DNA and RNA have four (4) bases.
  • Proteins often are less thermodynamically stable than RNA and DNA.
  • Nature has evolved natural enzymes, such as polymerases, that assist in DNA and RNA sequencing. Proteins do not have the same luxury.

Life sciences entrepreneur, Jonathan Rothberg, is exploring this new frontier. His company, Quantum SI (private), recently filed a patent that describes NGPS methods and compositions addressing many of these challenges. In our view, an instrument capable of sequencing proteins with single-molecule accuracy and high sample throughput – cost-effectively – could turbocharge the ‘omics revolution.

 

2. Is Tether Putting Bitcoin at Risk?

This week Tether, a dollar-pegged crypto token which is a source of liquidity for over-the-counter (OTC) trading desks and off-shore cryptocurrency exchanges, became a source of controversy. An article published by “Crypto Anonymous” asserted that Tether has been responsible for serious bitcoin price manipulation that could cripple both the Bitcoin network and bitcoin.

Bitcoin is no stranger to this kind of “Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt” (FUD). In 2018, critics launched nearly identical arguments focused on Tether’s potential impact on bitcoin.

ARK believes that the latest article relies on misleading data and exposes a significant misunderstanding of Tether’s mechanics. While Tether operations are somewhat opaque, the scrutiny it has faced since 2018 would suggest a low probability of outright fraud.

That said, in our view even if Tether were to fail, its impact on the Bitcoin network and bitcoin’s price would be short-term and perhaps di minimis. While in the short term, Tether’s potential failure could cause chaotic price action and a loss in confidence in the crypto space, ultimately we believe its failure could benefit bitcoin, highlighting its differentiation as a liability free asset.

 

3. Virtual Reality (VR) Is Gaining Traction in China

This week SenseTime, a prominent computer vision company in China, announced the first architectural and hardware standards for augmented reality technology (this was for AR standards only). The China Electronics Standardization Association, Xiaomi, Baidu, iQIYI and several other corporate and academic institutions collaborated with SenseTime to set the standards. Given the hardware improvements necessary to handle their computational intensity, VR and AR are in exceedingly early days and in search of large-scale use cases.

That said, during China’s Singles Day shopping festival in November, Qiyu’s VR headsets ranked number one in sales on JD.com. A few weeks ago, iQIYI Intelligent raised several hundred million RMB (tens of millions USD) in a series B round, making it the largest VR pure play in the market. iQIYI Intelligent is an independent VR startup incubated by iQIYI and the manufacturer of Qiyu VR headsets.

 

4. An All-Star-Led Startup Increases Paccar’s Chances of Survival in The Autonomous Electric Age

This week Aurora partnered with Paccar to create and deploy autonomous trucks “within the next several years”. Aurora is an autonomous technology startup led by Chris Urmson, former Chief Technology Officer (CTO) of Self-Driving Cars at Google, as well as Sterling Anderson, former Autopilot head at Tesla, and Drew Bagnell, founding member of Uber’s Advanced Technology Group. In our opinion, highly respected truck manufacturer Paccar will help Aurora scale the number of electric and autonomous trucks on public roads much faster than otherwise would be the case. As a result, Aurora’s autonomous system could be trained on more real-world scenarios than will those of most other truck manufacturers except perhaps for Tesla. Important to both Aurora and Paccar, fully integrated, purpose-built autonomous vehicles are likely to perform much better than the combination of outsourced autonomous systems and manufactured trucks.

According to ARK’s research, the transportation industry will consolidate dramatically during the transition to autonomous electric platforms. ARK estimates that autonomous electric trucks could lower freight transportation costs from 12 cents to roughly 3 cents per ton mile, undercutting rail prices and potentially putting $400 billion in fixed rail assets at risk.