Emerging Markets: Reconsidering the Dominance of Gene Foundry Models

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Edward Perello, Riley Doyle, Victor Dillard, Pakpoom Subsoontorn

Desktop Genetics, United Kingdom

For many in the Western world we have grown accustomed to ordering oligonucleotides and complex custom genes relatively simply and cheaply from gene foundries. But even in the UK, where the nearest foundry lies across the Channel, turnaround times are unnecessarily long and Brits generally pay pound for dollar on their constructs due to high transaction costs and import tariffs. For those in emerging markets, the problem is compounded. Thai biotech organisations currently pay Malaysian foundries 60 cents/base pair for oligonucleotides (>1 week delivery) and pay 3x what we do for PCR reagent kits and enzymes (also taking several weeks). Gene synthesis costs more than a dollar/base pair and the costs and timeframes for sequencing are similarly unacceptable. It seems the dominance of gene foundry models in the West cannot easily be translated onto the rest of the world. In emerging markets, it is thus much harder to make DNA a commodity in the same way that it is becoming one in our own. Nonetheless, we all generally agree that synthetic biology has a vast potential to positively impact international development and provide emerging economies with access to key resources that they currently lack. But where it is needed the most, there are barriers far too high for significant technological momentum to be generated. Indeed, it is not the technological limitations surrounding gene synthesis that matter the most here, but the combined social, economic, and even political bottlenecks that have been built around this technology. I therefore suggest that emerging markets, with their smaller synbio budgets and limited accessibility stand to benefit greatly from a decentralized synthesis model, wherein gene-manufacturing capabilities are widespread. This will be a bold but necessary step in making synthetic biology accessible to the entire world and not just to well-funded groups in the West.