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It’s easy to take for granted the widespread use of optogenetics, CRISPR, and direct cell reprogramming. But there was a once a time when these techniques were impossible—even unimaginable. In celebration of the magazine’s 30th anniversary, we are taking a look back at five fields that have embraced technological sea changes, enjoying precise and powerful methodologies and instrumentation that have enabled revolutionary biological insights. Here we reflect on the pioneers whose innovations have propelled advances in microscopy, sequencing, brain imaging, gene editing, and stem cells.

DNA Sequencing: From Tedious to Automatic

Sequencing has gone from a laborious manual task costing thousands of dollars to a quick and cheap practice that is standard for many laboratories.

Microscopy’s Growth Through the Years

From confocal fluorescence microscopy to super-resolution and live 3-D imaging, microscopes have changed rapidly since 1986.

New and Old Techniques in Modern Neuroscience

Imaging and manipulating the brain has come a long way from electrodes and the patch clamp, though such traditional tools remain essential. 

Gene Editing: From Roots to Riches

Advances in genetic manipulation have simplified the once daunting task of rewriting a gene.

Stem Cells Made Waves in Biology and Medicine

Since their introduction to the lab, pluripotent stem cells have gone from research tool to therapeutic, but the journey has been rocky.