In 2008, many thousands of articles were published on the subject of allergic disease with over 200 reviews, editorials and original papers in Clinical & Experimental Allergy alone. These represent a considerable amount of data and even the most avid reader could only hope to assimilate a small fraction of this knowledge. There is therefore a pressing need for the key messages that emerge from a journal such as Clinical & Experimental Allergy to be summarized by experts in the field in a form that highlights the significance of the developments and sets them in the context of important findings in the field published in other journals. This also has the advantage of making connections between new data in conditions such as asthma, where articles often appear in different sections of the journal. As can be seen from this review, the body of work is diverse both in terms of the disease of interest and the discipline that has been used to investigate it. However, taken as a whole, we hope that the reader will gain a flavour of where the field is mature, where there remain controversies and where the cutting edge is leading.