Money Weekend Market Digest: 30 March 2013

Health: The $1,000 Genome Challenge

Personalised Medicine. Get used to that phrase; you’ll hear it more often in the years ahead. Imagine knowing what disease you’re going to get, before you get it, and then putting a treatment regime in place to prevent you from getting sick.

It’s possible, and it’s so close it’s getting us nerd types very excited.

This all hinges around the ability to sequence DNA. You may have heard of the Human Genome Project, which began in October, 1990. It involved sequencing human DNA and then mapping out about 30,000 genes. So on April 14th 2003, about $2.7 billion later, the first Human Genome was completed. Since then it’s like the DNA sequencing industry has been in overdrive.

To see the speed at which this is all happening we have to briefly turn to computing for a moment and look at Moore’s Law.

Moore’s Law says the number of transistors on a computer chip roughly doubles every 2 years. For any industry, to keep pace with Moore’s law is as an exceptional rate of progression.

So when the cost per genome is imposed over Moore’s law you can see the amazing speed which genome sequencing has progressed in the last few years.

Human Genome Project, cost per genome
Source: National Human Genome Research Institute

There are two parts to this story that have really got us in a bubble of excitement. First, this year marks the 10th anniversary of the completion of the Human Genome Project. And second, this September there’s a competition on called the Archon Genomics X Prize.

Up for grabs, a cool $10 million. This competition requires the winning team to sequence 100 human genomes in 30 days, with best-in-class accuracy and, here’s the best bit, at a cost of under $1,000 per sequence.

What this means is genome sequencing will go from being ‘research’ to a legitimate form of diagnosis and treatment for patients worldwide. It’s the dawn of real Personalised Medicine.

Energy: Is This (Finally) the Answer to Electric Cars?

It’s not just the human genome that’s got us super excited this week either. We’re excited about energy too. There’s a fair amount of talk about declining resources and an energy crisis the likes we’ve never seen before. It’s something we should all be aware of. But obviously that’s not why we’re excited about energy.

What gets our synapses firing like Bill Duke in Predator is innovation and the new discoveries in energy that are happening almost on a daily basis.

Take for example the electric car movement. It’s an energy discussion that’s been hanging around for some time. Yet no one quite believes it’s viable, and rightly so. Who really wants to drive 120km and then wait 12 hours to recharge for the next 120km? Not us. Admittedly some electric car manufacturers like Tesla have got a range of in excess of 300km now. But still, that’s three recharges on the way to Sydney.

Thankfully, innovation never sleeps, and a company called Phinergy based out of Israel thinks they’ve got the solution to our electric car problems. And it’s a pretty good solution we must say.

Phinergy have implemented their new Aluminium-Air battery technology into a car (you can see the video on their homepage). The technology uses Aluminium, Water and Air to create the energy that powers the vehicle. Not only that, Phinergy claim that it’s possible the range of their Aluminium-Air vehicle could be over 3 times that of existing Electric cars, possibly up to and over 1,000 miles.

So when the charged battery gets low, instead of spending 12 hours charging, top your car up with water (yes, plain drinking water). The reaction with the Aluminium-Air battery recharges the battery instantly and away you go.

The technology Phinergy has impressed some of the big auto makers. They’ve recently signed on with the Renault-Nissan Alliance, a partnership between Renault AG and the Nissan Motor Group.

Mercedes Benz is another major automaker that’s investing heavily in electric vehicles. They’re looking to release a full electric version of their B-Class in 2014. In September 2012 Mercedes also released a full electric version of their SLS AMG, AMG’s most powerful, and the world’s fastest, electric car.

So the electric car is once again getting some traction with the big car manufacturers, because they’ve finally cottoned on that you don’t have to compromise performance or style for ‘eco-friendliness’.

With new technologies the electric car won’t be an ‘alternative’ much longer, but could perhaps become the norm.

Technology: Why Hollywood Shouldn’t Remake Top Gun

We suspect that the movie Top Gun probably wouldn’t have done as well at the box office if it didn’t have Tom Cruise, Val Kilmer and Anthony Edwards in the cockpit of those Grumman F-14 Tomcats.

Imagine if it was a computer program playing an MP3 of ‘You’ve lost that loving feeling’ then autonomously sending off planes thousands of kilometres away. Probably wouldn’t have grossed over $353 million worldwide or inspired a generation of fighter pilots.

You see, if they remade Top Gun today, to be true to modern technology, it would be a pretty boring film. Because it wouldn’t need a cast.

The days of piloted strike fighter aircraft are almost over. And when we say unmanned, we mean no one. No pilot. No controller. Just a preprogramed drone strike fighter doing its thing.

Of course the US Military is the one pioneering unmanned strike fighters. As you would expect, with a defence spending budget in the realm of $670 billion they’ve got the money to pull this off. That’s why they’ve contracted Northrop Grumman to build and test the X-47B.

The Northrop Grumman fact sheet explains it best;

X-47B is a computer-controlled unmanned aircraft system that takes off, flies a preprogramed mission, then returns to base in response to mouse clicks from its mission operator. The mission operator monitors the X-47B air vehicle’s operation, but does not actively “fly” it via remote control as is the case for other unmanned systems currently in operation.

The real breakthrough here is the fighter can take off and land on an aircraft carrier. But we’re still dazzled by the ‘mouse clicks from its mission operator’ part!

Source: Northrop Grumman

Looking like a squished version of Northrop’s B-2 Bomber, the X-47B is fully compatible with the US Navy’s existing aircraft carriers and can carry a 4,500 lb payload. That’s a lot of weaponry.

Honestly, it scares the living daylights out of us. The whole military system seems to be going more and more down the track of automation. When it gets an injection of Artificial Intelligence, well, let’s just hope we can escape by flying to Mars by then.

Sam Volkering
Technology Analyst, Money Weekend

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From the Archives…

Why You Should Buy This Falling Stock Market
22-03-2013 – Kris Sayce

Stock Market Warning: Part II
21-03-2013 – Murray Dawes

New Developments on Whether You Can Get Your Mortgage Cancelled
20-03-2013 – Nick Hubble

Your Retirement or Your Mortgage?
19-03-2013 – Nick Hubble

Get Used to This Stock Market Action, It’s Set to Last…
18-03-2013 – Kris Sayce

Sam Volkering

Sam Volkering is Editor for Money Morning and its small-cap, cryptocurrency and technology expert. Find out what he has to say here with all his latest articles.

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