In 1986, the year in which the automated DNA sequencer was invented, GenBank held a scant 9.6 million bases. Yet discussion began on the feasibility of sequencing all three billion bases of the human genome. It was estimated at the time that such an undertaking would take "30,000 person-years of effort and upward of $2 billion."1 Thanks to rapid improvements in the technology, however, the project was completed in just 17 years.

In this issue of The Scientist, we celebrate the DNA sequencer, as well as six other key technologies that have, and are, transforming life science research. Each of our chosen seven – the others are the BLAST algorithm, the DNA microarray, the yeast two-hybrid assay, the MALDI-TOF mass spectrometer, the lab-on-a-chip, and the optical trap – is in its own way shaking the foundations of life science research.

As a group, they tell the story of...

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