I gave a talk in a morning I&EC session last thursday at the Denver ACS National meeting. During an interlude provided by a no-show speaker, a member of the audience began to quiz down a hapless speaker who earlier presented on the filtration of plasmids. The gentleman’s concern was this- We are continuing to develop conventional processing technology while fellows like Craig Venter are devising step-change techniques for genomic analysis and synthesis. People like Venter have their names mentioned in the same sentence with “synthetic biology”.  Why do we bother with the more primitive methods of research when the real action is with folks like Venter?

The inquisitive fellow was asking a rhetorical question to all of us. But the point he skipped over was the matter of intellectual property. He kept asking why don’t “we” just switch the paradigm right now and use such technology? Why continue with highly manual R&D?  The problem with his question was in the assumption that Venter’s technology was something that “WE” have access to. Venter’s technology does not automatically translate into a community tool. It is more like an item of commerce. In reality, this will likely represent a major uptick in productivity to the financial benefit of the intellectual property owners and licensees and their stockholders.

How the scientific workforce will fare is a different matter. Increased productivity usually means reduced labor per unit of output. I suspect that Venter’s technology represents a higher entry barrier to those who want to be in the market.  It may be that the outcome will be a broader range of diagnostic and treatment services available to a shrinking pool of insured people able to afford it.