When E. coli killed more than 50 people across Europe last spring, a speedy response was essential. Life Technologies' Ion Torrent, a semiconductor-based sequencer, let scientists map the strain's genes in three days (others might have taken up to two weeks) and quickly develop a test to help identify the outbreak's source. "It changes the whole dynamic of a pandemic," says CEO Greg Lucier. Life Technologies sells the sequencer for $50,000—a quarter of the price of equivalent devices. Its newest machine, the Ion Proton, sequences a genome for just $1,000. The $3.6 billion company introduced 2,000 products since 2009 and has incentive to work fast: It expects the market for its biowares to hit $30 billion by 2015.
Illustration by Peter Oumanksi