One Example of the Pace of Biotechnology

Biotechnology these days mimics the computing hardware industry: some areas are moving with blazing speed, making other fields that are only progressing rapidly seem slow in comparison. Costs of tools and procedures are falling rapidly, whilst reliability and capabilities are improving by leaps and bounds. The bulky, lab-bound machineries of ten years ago are becoming desktop machines now, and by 2020 they will be hand-held devices that cost little more than a pricey smartphone does today. (By 2020, smartphones of that capacity will be next to free, and what you carry around in your pocket will have more processing power than one of today's high-end rack mount servers).

As an illustration:

The Personal Genome Machine (PGM) by Ion Torrent is a DIY biologist's fantasy: it's fast, compact, and the first sequencer to come even close to commercial viability. Hell, it even has an iPod dock. ... The PGM is their contribution to the growing commercial genomics marketplace, and a powerful reminder of how sequencing tech is following Moore's Law. It will set you back $49,500, [which] still keeps it out of reach for all but the most affluent DIYers. Still, at less than 1/10th the price of competing sequencers (compare it against PacBio's system at $695k), don't be surprised if it starts making headway into research labs.

It wasn't all that long ago that you'd be forking over millions of dollars for a DNA sequencing machine that was far less useful than those on the market today, and certainly a good deal more bulky and failure-prone. This is what a less regulated field of development looks like - its participants rapidly produce tremendous benefits for their customers as a consequence of aggressive, constant competition over price and features. That requires the freedom for new entrants to jump into development and try their ideas without approval from government or other higher powers, something that is sadly lacking in medicine beyond the fast-moving fields like DNA sequencing.


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