The emergence of intense sources of terahertz radiation based on lasers and electron accelerators has considerable potential for research on biological systems. This perspective gives a brief survey of theoretical work and the results of experiments on biological molecules and more complex biological systems. Evidence is accumulating that terahertz radiation influences biological systems and this needs to be clarified in order to establish safe levels of human exposure to this radiation. The use of strong sources of terahertz radiation may contribute to the resolution of controversies over the mechanism of biological organization. However the potential of these sources will only be realized if they are accompanied by the development of sophisticated pump-probe and multidimensional experimental techniques and by the study of biological systems in the controlled environments necessary for their maintenance and viability.