In 1987, the University of British Columbia made a bold investment in the future by establishing Canada's first interdisciplinary biotechnology unit. Under the visionary leadership of Dr. Michael Smith, the UBC Biotechnology Laboratory was created and a gifted team of young scientists were recruited.  In 2004, the Biotechnology Laboratory was renamed the Michael Smith Laboratories in honour of the founding Director.

There are approximately 250 research personnel in the Laboratory, with research activities falling into four major areas of emphasis: