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A Good Return

In his State of the Union address earlier this week, US President Barack Obama made mention of how advances in genomics have affected the economy. "Every dollar we invested to map the human genome returned $140 to our economy — every dollar," he said, according to a transcript of his remarks.

ScienceInsider traces the origin of that figure back to a 2011 report from the Battelle Technology Partnership Practice. The report calculated the direct, indirect, and induced impacts of human genome sequencing on employment, personal income, output, and tax revenue. It found that, all together, human genome sequencing has had an economic impact that exceeds $796 billion. Since the federal government invested $3.8 billion — $5.6 billion in 2010 dollars — that comes out to be a return on investment of 141 to 1, the report says. ScienceInsider adds that the estimate has been "criticized as being a bit rosy."

Janet Lambert, the vice president of government relations at Life Technologies, thought up the idea of the report, and she tells ScienceInsider that "it was my belief that the Human Genome Project represented a great, memorable example of a general point we had been making: that federal investments in research have a great payoff not just for human health but the economy in general."

ScienceInsider adds that "there is some political irony" to Obama using the figure as Life Tech CEO Greg Lucier has donated to Republican candidates. The company's political action committee, it points out, though, has donated to Democratic candidates that support federal research spending. "It has long been a bipartisan issue and should be a bipartisan issue," Lambert tells ScienceInsider.