One-third of the global population is believed to be infected with bacteria of the Mycobacterium tuberculosis complex, the causative agent of tuberculosis. More than 8 million new cases of tuberculosis occur annually leading to 2 million deaths. Mortality is particularly high in those coinfected with HIV and where the bacteria are multiple-drug-resistant strains--ie, strains resistant to at least isoniazid and rifampicin. Early diagnosis of tuberculosis and drug resistance improves survival and by identifying infectious cases promotes contact tracing, implementation of institutional cross-infection procedures, and other public-health actions. This review addresses significant advances made in the diagnosis of infection, clinical disease, and drug resistance over the past decade. It proposes operational criteria for a modern diagnostic service in the UK (as a model of a low-incidence country) and explores some of the economic issues surrounding the use of these techniques.