A small start-up firm in Santa Clara, Calif., had a big idea five years ago. By adapting the methods of
microprocessor manufacturing, it created microchips that contain thousands of distinct DNA probes on glass in place of transistors on silicon. The company figured that researchers would immediately find such "gene chips" useful, and doctors would eventually find them indispensable. With a chip, a tissue sample and a scanner, a technician can get a snapshot of the secret lives of the cells in that tissue, a detailed picture showing which genes are most active and which have been silenced. The idea that this might lead to customized preventive medical treatments was a compelling one for investors, who bid the stock of Affymetrix up 2,700 percent from July 1996 to March 2000.
This article was originally published with the title Shrinking to Enormity.