The classical twin study has been a powerful heuristic in biomedical, psychiatric and behavioural research for decades. Twin registries worldwide have collected biological material and longitudinal phenotypic data on tens of thousands of twins, providing a valuable resource for studying complex phenotypes and their underlying biology. In this Review, we consider the continuing value of twin studies in the current era of molecular genetic studies. We conclude that classical twin methods combined with novel technologies represent a powerful approach towards identifying and understanding the molecular pathways that underlie complex traits. © 2012 Macmillan Publishers Limited. All rights reserved.