Differential display, invented in 1992 by Liang and Pardee, ( Science, 257:967-71, 1992) has, in the few years since its description, become the premier technique for studying gene expression. Accordingly, a number of companies have jumped into the market with kits and tools for using this technology. The beauty of this method is that it enables side-by-side comparisons of complex expression patterns from as many samples as can fit on a gel, and eliminates the need for what can be at times tedious and cumbersome hybridization and screening regimes. And while not without its difficulties, this technique has supplanted other methodologies for studying gene expression: last year alone, a thousand papers were published using differential display.

At the center of the technique is the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) used in this case to amplify sets of message sequences. With PCR, the primers are the key, and for...

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