There are some scientific technologies that rapidly become ubiquitious and indispensible, and they become the engine that drives tremendous amounts of research, win Nobel prizes, and are eventually taken for granted. Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) is one example: PCR is routine in molecular biology now, but I remember when PCR machines were magical objects of reverence, and you were cutting edge when you used one. No more; I actually tell my senior students presenting their final thesis presentation that they don’t have to explain what PCR is anymore, everyone knows what it is and how it works and what it is used for.
The new technology of today that is going to be showered with awards and money and accolades and become totally ubiquitous is CRISPR/Cas. This technique exploits the molecular biology of a prokaryotic adaptive immune system to target gene sequences in living cells and swap in a different sequence — it’s a mechanism for going into a cell and editing its genome selectively. This is huge. It has gigantic implications — people are already fretting over the ethical use of a way to modify people’s genes, even before it has been applied in any practical way. I’m not exaggerating when I say that this is going to be the universal tool for experimental molecular biology for the next several decades, possibly indefinitely.