As I work in an inherently inter-disciplinary field, I hope you’ll allow me to cheat and pick one technological innovation from each of ‘bio’ and ‘computing’. For the former, I would say PCR, the enzymatic chain reaction that allows us easily to copy strands of DNA. ‘For molecular biologists, history is divided into the world before PCR and the world after PCR’, says biologist George Amato.
Earlier techniques for gathering experimentally useful quantities of a given DNA sequence involved bacterial cloning - a tedious, hit-and-miss affair. Kary Mullis revolutionised biology with his simple and elegant reaction, a classic ‘Why didn’t I think of that?’ experiment.
From the perspective of computing, I think the most significant development so far has been the integrated circuit. As Nick Holonyak Jr once argued, ‘Take away the semiconductor, and all of electronics - all of it! - collapses, along with all of the world’s economies.’ The integrated circuit is the foundation of modern computing, communications, manufacturing and transport, and without it the internet would not exist. The ‘digital revolution’ made possible by the IC is thought by many to be one of the most significant events in the history of mankind, let alone computing.
Dr Martyn Amos is author of Genesis Machines: The New Science of Biocomputing (Atlantic, 2006) (buy this book from Amazon(UK)).