Due to its unique capability to analyze a large number of single cells for several parameters simultaneously, flow cytometry has changed our understanding of the behavior of cells in culture and of the population dynamics even of clonal populations. The potential of this method for biotechnological research, which is based on populations of living cells, was soon appreciated. Sorting applications, however, are still less frequent than one would expect with regard to their potential. This review highlights important contributions where flow cytometric cell sorting was used for physiological research, protein engineering, cell engineering, specifically emphasizing selection of overproducing cell lines. Finally conclusions are drawn concerning the impact of cell sorting on inverse metabolic engineering and systems biology.