"Carlson Curves" and Synthetic Biology

(UPDATE, 1 September 06: Here is a note about the recent Synthetic Biology story in The Economist.)

(UPDATE, 20 Feb 06: If you came here from Paul Boutin's story "Biowar for Dummies", I've noted a few corrections HERE.)

Oliver Morton's Wired Magazine article about Synthetic Biology is here. If you are looking for the "Carlson Curves", The Pace and Proliferation of Biological Technologies" is published in the journal Biosecurity and Bioterrorism. The paper is available in html at kurzweilai.net.

A note on the so-called "Carlson Curves" (Oliver Morton's phrase, not mine): The plots were meant to provide a sense of how changes in technology are bringing about improvements in productivity in the lab, rather than to provide a quantitative prediction of the future. I am not suggesting there will be a "Moore's Law" for biological technologies. Although it may be possible to extract doubling rates for some aspect of this technology, I don't know whether this analysis is very interesting. I prefer to keep it simple. As I explain in the paper, the time scale of changes in transistor density are set by planning and finance considerations for multi-billion dollar integrated circuit fabs. That doubling time has a significant influence on many billions of dollars of investment. Biology, on the other hand, is cheap, and change should come much faster. Money should be less and less of an issue as time goes on, and my guess is those curves provide a lower bound on changes in productivity.

I will try to have something tomorrow about George Church and Co's "unexpected improvement" in DNA synthesis capacity, as well as some comments about Nicholas Wade's New York Times story.