Bedroom Biology in The Economist

I have yet to see the print version, but evidently I make an appearance in tomorrow's Economist in a Special Report on Synthetic Biology.  (Thanks for the heads-up, Bill.)  I wasn't actually interviewed for the piece, but I've no objections to the text.  There is an accompanying piece that forecasts the coming "Bedroom Biotech", a phrase they seem to prefer to "Garage Biology".  Personally, I prefer to keep my DNA bashing to the garage rather than the bedroom.  Well, okay, most but not all of my DNA bashing.

The story contains a figure showing data from 2002 on productivity changes in DNA sequencing and synthesis, redrawn from my 2003 paper, "The Pace and Proliferation of Biological Technologies", labeling them "Carlson Curves" once again.  Oh well.  The original paper was published in the journal Biosecurity and Bioterrorism (PDF from TMSI, html version at  It isn't so much that I disavow the name "Carlson Curve" as I want to assert that quantitatively predicting the course of biological technologies is a questionable thing to do.  As Moore made clear in his paper, what became his law is driven by the financing of expensive chip fabs -- banks require a certain payment schedule before they will loan another billion dollars for a new fab -- whereas biology is cheap and progress is much more likely to be governed by basic science and the total number of people participating in the endeavor.

Newer versions of figures from the 2003 paper, as well as additional metrics of progress in biological technologies, will be available in December with the release of "Genome Synthesis & Design Futures: Implications for the US Economy", written with my colleagues at Bio Economic Research Associates (bio-era), and funded by bio-era and the Department of Energy.

To close the circle, I should explain that the "Carlson Curves" were an attempt to figure out how fast biology is changing, an effort prompted by an essay I wrote for the inaugural Shell/Economist Writing Prize, "The World in 2050."  (Here is a PDF of the original essay, which was published in 2001 as "Open Source Biology and its Impact on Industry.")  I received a silver prize, rather than gold, and was always slightly miffed that The Economist only published the first place essay, but I suppose I can't complain about the outcome.