In the present genomics era, powerful reverse-genetic strategies are needed to elucidate gene and protein function in the context of a whole organism. However, most current techniques lack the generality and high-throughput potential of descriptive genomic approaches, such as those that rely on microarray hybridization. For example, in plant research, effective insertional mutagenesis and transgenic methods are limited to relatively few species or are inefficient. Fortunately, single-nucleotide changes can be induced in any plant by using traditional chemical mutagens, and progress has been made in efficiently detecting changes. Because base substitutions in proteins provide allelic series, and not just knockouts, this strategy can yield refined insights into protein function. Here, we review recent progress that has been made in genome-wide screening for point mutations and natural variation in plants. Its general applicability leads to the expectation that traditional mutagenesis followed by high-throughput detection will become increasingly important for plant functional genomics.