(UPDATE, 22 November 05: Wired Magazine has now published a version of this map.)
Given recent discussions in the press and at the NSABB meeting concerning licensing DNA synthesis instruments and related professional skills, it seems like a good idea to make an estimate of how big the problem is by assessing the distribution of the technology. Prompted by Jerry Epstein at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, I headed out on the web to make a list of Commercial DNA Foundries. Here is a map we came up with to represent access to commercially synthesized oligos.
(UPDATE, 19 July 05: I've replaced the .gif with a higher resolution .jpg.) (UPDATE: Note that these are Foundries -- that is, the building where DNA actually gets synthesized -- and that the associated distribution/marketing networks are actually considerably more widespread.)
This is just a first pass, though given how many companies there are I don't know if we will spend a lot of time trying to be encyclopedic. A few notes: there are no academic foundries on here, save the Zelinsky Institute in Moscow (which I included because it is quite interesting that a government facility in Russia is operating commercially -- fascinating implications for proliferation). The number of academic foundries suggests that both instrumentation and skills are quite widely distributed. The companies are numerous enough. I gave up trying to fit more companies into the maps of US and Western Europe -- if I left out your company, my apologies. Perhaps if we figure out a more clever way to keep track of, and represent, all the data, we can include all comers. I suspect there are more companies in Russian and China, but the language barrier defeats my first pass with Google.
So now, a couple of thoughts. The net capacity of all these foundries looks to be pretty impressive (though I have yet to add it all up). Who is ordering all this DNA? The estimates I've heard for the size of the synthesis market are in the low tens of millions of dollars annually. Either many companies are ekeing out existence on wee small pieces of the total, or the market is much bigger than people think. How is it split between short oligos, perhaps primarily used as PCR primers, and larger constructs used to build genes for recombinant proteins? Does it make a difference, even now? If so, given the increasing capability demonstrated in assembling short pieces of DNA, is it worth trying to distinguish between short and long oligos? That is, will regulation of either short or long pieces of DNA be feasible and will it increase security?
Finally, I haven't yet charted the cost per base of synthesis as a function of geography, but I'm sure the results will be provocative. I was surprised to see that the biotechnology industry in India is supporting at least three commercial synthesis foundries, and I'll bet those companies are charging less than I recently paid for gene synthesis domestically. How soon are North American and European DNA foundries going to have to compete against Indian labor and FedEx?
More to come as I ponder this. Comments and suggestions?