$2.50/base Oligos

Lawrence Washington lwashing at sunflower.bio.indiana.edu
Wed May 4 15:25:05 EST 1994

> As the commercial prices have fallen, many labs here have 
> begun to order oligos from outside enterprises.  It seems that as the price 
> drops futher, it will become more and more difficult for the on-campus 
> facility to maintain its volume and will have to raise prices or to cease 
> operations.  Has this happened to anyone yet at their institution?If not, 
> how has it been avoided: more subsidy or better efficiency?

Our core lab has indeed had to respond to commercial enterprises and their
lower prices.  As a matter of historical perspective, when we started
making oligos for our biology department back in 1984 we charged $6 per
base and $25 setup and we were the cheapest game around.  Since then as
companies got into the business and we learned to be more efficient we have
lowered prices from time to time, to $4.50 to $3.00 to $2.50 per base. 
This month we are lowering prices again, in part in response to lower
advertised commercial prices.  Coping with pressure to keep fees low is a
difficult challenge to core lab managers.  In our case the faculty has
decided to approve a small flat fee on all the labs in our department to
make up for the shortfall from the reduced oligo income.  It is considered
a valuable enough facility that a subsidy was agreed to.  We provide
services besides oligo synthesis (uncompensated until now) so this is fair.
 Time will tell if it works. 

Having noted this, I would like to make a sort of plea to core facility
USERS on behalf of other non commercial core lab managers.  I gather that
many nucleic acid support labs have financed themselves largely by income
from oligo sales.  We have done so partly because it is a simple unit to
assess, and users of oligos are typically also users of our other services
as well.  It would be very difficult to charge for all the little services
we provide which actually add up to a significant part of our operations.
When you buy on oligo from your department (as opposed to an outside
concern) you may be helping finance a facility that supports your research
in ways other than simply providing DNA.  There are definite benefits to
spending your grant money locally when you have the choice.  Different core
labs are run in different ways, provide different services and are
supported and subsidized in a variety of ways, and you may find that in
your case the services provided warrant the oligo fees.  I know this does
not apply to all cases, but it might be worth considering at your

I am by no means suggesting that researchers should be unresponsive to
changing costs of supplies.  It is the responsibility of principal
investigators to spend their limited money thoughtfully, just as in any
business, and if a company offers you a way to save money, you have to pay
attention.  But if you pay an outside company when you could be supporting
a local core lab you may missing a chance to finance a valuable
departmental resource.

Lawrence Washington
Indiana Institute for Molecular and Cellular Biology

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