February 17, 2012

Who are the sequencing superpowers?

As with many other things, the United States are the world leader when it comes to sequencing capacity. There are more sequencing machines in the US than in the next ten countries combined. However, this is not a great surprise, as the US expenditure on Research and Development (R&D) is also much higher than that of any other country.

The question I'm asking here is how the sequencing capacity of US and other countries compares to their R&D expenditure.

Number of DNA sequencing machines for each $1bn spent on R&D

I interpret the resulting numbers as a proxy of how important sequencing is compared to other R&D activity.

Clearly, Australia is punching above its weight in terms of sequencing capacity and considering its research budget, followed by the UK.

In my opinion, the more interesting observation is the low number (34) of sequencers in Japan, compared to that country's vast research expenditure ($144bn). Seems like any Illumina salesmen reading this should book their next flight to Tokyo now.

Some notes on methodology

The number of sequencing machines per country comes from a website created by James Hadfield and Nick Loman. The data relies on self-reporting, and is unlikely to be entirely accurate.

Data on R&D expenditure by country comes from reports by Battelle and UNESCO. I included only countries with 10 sequencers or more, and for which R&D expenditure from 2010 or later is available. I made no distinction distinction between sequencers, treating a Pac Bio the same than an IonTorrent.

I'd also like to thank Saeed Al Turki for a discussion leading up to this post. His country, Saudi Arabia, would probably beat Australia by a wide margin on the chart above. I decided against including it, as no recent R&D expenditure data is available.


  1. Art, It would also be useful to find out the productivity numbers for these countries. In other words, how many publications have come out of these countries in peer reviewed journals per sequencer? Of course, low numbers may not necessarily mean that sequences are not used, but may be used for "service" purposes and the owner of the sequence, who should, but may not publish anything. This is a possible scenario but not very likely because continued funding for these high-end machines will depend on their productive use which will be evaluated by publications.

    1. Hi Vishnu, thank you for your suggestion. I'm afraid at the moment I don't know of data that would be good enough to implement this. In case you can point me to something, please let me know.

  2. This is not about "sequencing superpowers" ... this is about who spent the least in R&D in 2010 having the most sequencers...

    i don't see the point.