It's not a Defense Department project, but you have to admit: Any life-sciences company with a product named "Invader" sounds pretty cool. Small molecular-diagnostics developer Third Wave Technologies (NASDAQ:TWTI) is interesting not just for its scary-sounding products, but also because molecular diagnostics are one of the fastest-growing sectors of the life-sciences industry.

In the most basic sense, many of Third Wave's products are the materials that drug developers use to test their compounds in preclinical discovery stage testing. These chemistry products aren't Third Wave's only wares; it's also developing tests to more accurately diagnose infections like the human papillomavirus (HPV), since there aren't any very good or easy tests for this potential cervical-cancer precursor.

All these products fall under the category of molecular diagnostics, and different types of molecular diagnostics, like the genetic tests that Genzyme (NASDAQ:GENZ) and Myriad Genetics (NASDAQ:MYGN) offer, have enjoyed extremely rapid sales growth in recent months.

The results are evident in Third Wave's recently released year-end results. In 2007, it experienced 31% revenue growth for the year, thanks to higher sales of its molecular products. However, it still had a $31 million operating loss, partly because of higher research and development costs.

Third Wave's guidance for 2008 calls for roughly 20% full-year revenue growth. But the future may be even brighter, because it will be filing an application this year with the FDA to market its aforementioned HPV screening test. Third Wave estimates that the market for HPV testing could be between $400 million and $500 million in the U.S. alone, with less than half of this market penetrated by competing (and possibly inferior) tests.

Even though Third Wave is focusing on a slightly different portion of the molecular diagnostics spectrum than Genzyme or Myriad, it still occupies a sector poised for huge growth, regardless of what is happening to the rest of the world's economy. Therefore, Third Wave deserves a spot on biotech investors' watch lists, pending an FDA approval decision on its HPV test.