R2-D2 and C3PO would probably have enjoyed the scene. After all, the exhibit hall at the World Trade Center in Boston buzzed with robots, gadgets, widgets, and, of course, humans--lots of humans. More than 4,000 attendees and 300 exhibitors met Aug. 12-17 at the sixth annual Drug Discovery Technology (DDT) conference. Automated multichannel liquid dispensers, robotic arms, cell sorters, and computers whirred and hummed, while scientists poked and played, queried, and chatted.

All this high-tech gadgetry is designed for essentially one reason--to help drug companies enhance both the speed and efficiency of early drug screening procedures to minimize time spent chasing red herrings, the better to get the next blockbuster drug to market faster. When it comes to high-throughput screening, the microplate format--including 96-, 384-, and 1,536-well plates--dominates the field. But now BioTrove Inc.(www.biotrove.com) and Diversa Corp. (www.diversa.com) have upped the ante by 10- to...

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