The clinical need for new classes of antibiotic continues to grow, as drug resistance erodes the efficacy of current therapies. Historically, most antibiotics were discovered by random screening campaigns, but over the past 20 years, this strategy has largely failed to deliver a sufficient range of chemical diversity to keep pace with changing clinical profiles. A more rational approach to drug hunting has been greatly potentiated by the availability of bacterial genomic information. The rapid progress in sequencing and analysis of these small, prokaryotic genomes has enabled the concomitant development of powerful new technologies that are already enhancing the potential utility of genomic information. The future promises versatile and precise tools to understand what makes a successful antibiotic and moreover the means to identify and evaluate novel classes of drug.