• Kaitlyn Choi

Moore's Law and the Carlson curve

A recent Barron's article on the end of Moore's Law reminded me of the Carlson curve in biology. Carlson what? If you've never heard of it before, it's a curve showing a rapid decrease in DNA sequencing price per base.

(Image source; original source)


One thing to note here is that in addition to DNA sequencing cost, you see the price of DNA synthesis declining in this graph.


People say the Carlson curve is the biology equivalent of Moore's law. However, Rob Carlson, who authored the Economist article where the Carlson curve was first coined, warned that the DNA synthesis market is different from the market for transistors. His argument is predicated on the relatively small size of the gene synthesis market and no rapid growth in demand for synthetic DNA on the horizon. He wrote, "the total market value for transistors has grown for decades precisely because the total number of transistors shipped has climbed even faster than the cost per transistor has fallen. In contrast, biological manufacturing requires only one copy of the correct DNA sequence to produce billions in value." I wonder how Carlson now thinks about a surge of interest in using DNA as data storage. Could this market increase the demand for cheaper and accurate DNA synthesis and thus expand the synthetic DNA market?


As Carlson pointed out, the synthetic DNA market is different from the market for transistors. However, can the synthetic DNA industry learn something from the chip industry? For instance, the Barron's article noted that the end of Moore's Law is coming due to the physical limit of transistors and that "the industry is trying to figure out radically new technologies, such as quantum computing," to overcome this limit. The current DNA synthesis technology (or phosphoramidite synthesis) will hit a wall at some point. In fact, we already know it is not suitable for manufacturing long DNA. Then, what would be the equivalent of quantum computing in the DNA synthesis technology? Would it be the template-independent synthesis, such as terminal deoxynucleotidyl transferase (TdT)-dependent synthesis? Or something else?


Analogy falls apart eventually, but until then the transistor market and the fate of Moore's Law may help us think about the future of DNA synthesis market.

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