Genome Synthesis and Design Futures: Implications for the U.S. Economy

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Bio-era releases new report analyzing economic implications of rapid advances in gene sequencing and synthesis technologies -- big changes coming for energy, chemicals, and vaccine production.

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Genome Synthesis and Design Futures: Implications for the US Economy

Bio Economic Research Associates, or bio-era™ (, a leading independent research and advisory firm providing analysis on the future of the global bio economy, today released a new independent research report, entitled "Genome Synthesis and Design Futures: Implications for the US Economy". The report analyzes recent and expected impacts of the advance and adoption of new gene sequencing and synthesis technologies and techniques, and looks in depth at their likely significance in three strategically important sectors of the US economy: energy, chemicals, and vaccines. Printed and bound versions of the 180 page report are available through Access to a 35 MB download of the report .pdf file is also available through submitting the form at

Some of the key bio-era findings:

  • Sequencing - The productivity of DNA sequencing technologies, measured in terms of the number of base pairs sequenced per person per day for a researcher operating multiple machines, has increased more than 20,000-fold over the past 15 years. At this rate of improvement, productivity has doubled approximately every twelve months or improved by nearly six percent per month. Over the same time period, costs of sequencing have fallen 10,000-fold, halving approximately every 13 months.
  • Synthesis - Productivity of DNA synthesis technologies has increased approximately 7,000-fold over the past 15 years, doubling every 14 months. Costs of gene synthesis per bases pair have fallen 50-fold, halving every 32 months. At the same time, the accuracy of gene synthesis technologies has improved significantly.
  • Technology trends - The rates of improvement achieved for the performance of sequencing and synthesis technologies are extraordinary by almost any measure. The doubling times of just over 12 months for the productivity of DNA analysis tools compare with doubling times of 24 months for Moore's Law, which describes increases in the number of transistors per integrated circuit chip over the past 35 years. Technology advances currently under development promise to deliver further dramatic improvements in the productivity and reductions in cost for sequencing and synthesis instruments in the years ahead. If these technologies continue to improve at the exponential rates achieved historically, the cost of sequencing will fall to less than $0.01 per base pair by 2010 and the cost of gene synthesis will fall to less than $0.10 per base pair.
  • Market size and economic impact - The global market for DNA sequencing technology and related services exceeded $7 billion in 2006. The market for synthesis reagents and synthesis services is nearly $1 billion. Even as the cost of sequencing and synthesis services and equipment continues to fall, the overall market for DNA analysis and fabrication equipment and services is likely to continue to grow at compound annual growth rates of faster than 10%. The rapid expansion of these basic technology services will have far-reaching economic impacts as enablers of innovation in many industrial sectors.

The full color report (182 pages) examines the development of synthetic genomics under four starkly different scenarios. Each scenario differs with respect to the evolution of government policy and the increase in speed and economic gain delivered from further technological advance.

The Gilded Lab - presents a scenario in which public and private funding supports laboratory research programs, but biological engineering meets challenging technical obstacles; the implications for the US economy are small and investors in the biotech sector are disappointed.

Underworld - is a scenario reminiscent of the era of Prohibition, with strong government restrictions on the use of biotechnologies fostering the emergence of underground black markets, hacker culture, and lots of unregulated production activities outside of the U.S.

Modular Life - where current rates of technological advance continue unabated, and lead to the rapid emergence of modular design and construction capabilities for novel biological systems with a wide range of applications across the economy - but also deliver attendant social and environmental controversy.

Barricades - a scenario where geopolitical tensions and security concerns dominate government policy, and genome engineering research is severely restricted, with limited commercial activity and with government-funded R&D focused on biodefense.

Looking ahead, ongoing improvements in the performance of key enabling technologies for biological research, including DNA sequencing and synthesis, are likely to deliver significant further increases in productivity and reductions in cost over the next decade. Intensifying global competition among companies providing sequencing and synthesis services, coupled with abundant technological innovation, is driving rapid diffusion of new technology. In turn, the overall market for these services is growing rapidly and is likely to continue to expand at rates as high as 10-20% annually, despite rapidly falling unit costs. These trends will have significant direct economic impacts within the biotechnology industry itself and across the economy at large.

Financial support for this project was provided by the Office of Science (BER), U.S. Department of Energy, Grant No. DE-FG02-04ER63894. Additional funding was provided by DuPont Corporation ( and the Berkeley Nanosciences and Nanoengineering Institute (

Hard copy, full color and bound copies of the report are available for purchase on the bio-era website. To purchase the report, or for more information, please visit or contact Stephen C. Aldrich 617 876-2400.

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James Newcomb
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