Hello,

We noticed you're browsing in private or incognito mode.

To continue reading this article, please exit incognito mode or log in.

Not an Insider? Subscribe now for unlimited access to online articles.

Emily Singer

A View from Emily Singer

Outsourcing Genome Sequencing

China is poised to become the world’s sequencing powerhouse.

  • February 12, 2010

In January, the Beijing Genomics Institute, now known just as BGI, announced it had ordered 126 of Illumina’s newest sequencing machines. In a column for Science Progress, stem cell scientist Jeanne Loring notes, “This is the largest order of sequencers ever, anywhere. At a retail price of $690,000 each, even if the machines are discounted, the purchase of this instrumentation alone is a phenomenal investment of at least $60 million in a single year. This purchase will bring the total number of sequencers at BGI to 157, nearly twice the number of instruments at the largest sequencing center in the United States, the Broad Institute at MIT, which will bring its total to 89 this year.”

That could have both economic and scientific implications, she writes.

What’s the bottom line? The Chinese government has made a decision to invest in a technology that is clearly the way of the future. The Chinese will be able to achieve with DNA sequencing just what they attained in the manufacturing industry: the ability to do it cheaper and faster than anyone else. This potential for technical superiority raises two important issues for American academics and businesses.

First, there is the simple matter of economics. I predict that U.S. scientists and companies will find in the next few years that their funding goes further if they subcontract sequencing projects to China. As the demand for DNA sequencing for medical applications grows, we will be sending more and more of our money, and our jobs, to China.

Second, China’s sequencing power has the potential to tip the balance in innovation, the inventions and ideas that currently underlie the success of U.S. biotechnology. For a while, at least, Americans will still have the edge in publishing scientific papers using sequencing, because in the Western-dominated scientific publication industry, explaining the importance of the data is as critical as producing the data. However, China’s investment in sequencing will allow the country to build a valuable intellectual property portfolio because new discoveries will be made at a furious pace.

Cut off? Read unlimited articles today.

Become an Insider
Already an Insider? Log in.

Uh oh–you've read all of your free articles for this month.

Insider Premium
$179.95/yr US PRICE

More from Rewriting Life

Reprogramming our bodies to make us healthier.

Want more award-winning journalism? Subscribe and become an Insider.
  • Insider Plus {! insider.prices.plus !}* Best Value

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Everything included in Insider Basic, plus the digital magazine, extensive archive, ad-free web experience, and discounts to partner offerings and MIT Technology Review events.

    See details+

    What's Included

    Unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website

    The Download: our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation

    Bimonthly print magazine (6 issues per year)

    Bimonthly digital/PDF edition

    Access to the magazine PDF archive—thousands of articles going back to 1899 at your fingertips

    Special interest publications

    Discount to MIT Technology Review events

    Special discounts to select partner offerings

    Ad-free web experience

  • Insider Basic {! insider.prices.basic !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Six issues of our award winning print magazine, unlimited online access plus The Download with the top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox.

    See details+

    What's Included

    Unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website

    The Download: our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation

    Bimonthly print magazine (6 issues per year)

  • Insider Online Only {! insider.prices.online !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Unlimited online access including articles and video, plus The Download with the top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox.

    See details+

    What's Included

    Unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website

    The Download: our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation

/
You've read all of your free articles this month. This is your last free article this month. You've read of free articles this month. or  for unlimited online access.