It’s hard to find any good economic news these days. Europe is teetering on the brink; emerging markets such as China, Brazil and India are slowing down; and the United States is in a slump.
There is one bright spot on the American landscape: technology, particularly biotechnology. The cost of sequencing a human genome is down to $1,000, and the process now takes two hours — a pace that is much faster than “Moore’s Law,” which says that computing power doubles while its costs drop by half every 18 months. This technology revolution is already transforming whole industries. It is a reminder that, as we confront difficulties across the economic landscape, the one area where the United States can still move from strength to strength is science and technology — if we make the right decisions.
Take, for instance, the decision to map the human genome. The federal government funded that project at a whopping $3.8 billion cost, over a 15-year period. But consider the payback. One study — funded by the industry — calculates that the Human Genome Project has helped drive $796 billion in economic activity and raised $244 billion in personal income; it supported 310,000 jobs in 2010 alone. These numbers may be exaggerated, but the scale of the impact is clear across such vast fields as agriculture and medicine and new areas such as gene therapy.