PacBio was founded with the goal of developing a Single Molecule Real Time (SMRT) approach for nucleic acid sequencing. This concept was initially developed at Cornell University in the Laboratories of Watt Webb and Harold Craighead. Cornell has been a preeminent world leader in nanotechnology research for more than 25 years, and leads the National Nanotechnology Infrastructure Network (NNIN)—an integrated partnership of 13 facilities.
In 2005, the NHGRI (National Human Genome Research Institute) of the NIH (National Institute of Health) established two major grant programs to facilitate the development of technologies that would enable the sequencing of a human genome at significantly less cost than is possible today. Two categories of grants were established: one for the development of technology that promised to enable sequencing of the human genome at a cost of $100,000, and a second category for the $1,000 genome. The NHGRI awarded PacBio an Advanced Sequencing Technology Award grant of $6.6 million for development of technology leading to the $1000 genome, the largest grant of any company applying at any level.