The logic of using nucleic acids as pharmaceutical reagents is in part based on their capacity to interact with high affinity and specificity with other biological components. Considerable progress has been made over the past 10 years in the development of nucleic acid-based drug molecules using a variety of different technologies. One approach is a combinatorial technology that involves an iterative Darwinian-type in vitro evolution process, which has been termed SELEX for 'systematic evolution of ligands by exponential enrichment'. The procedure is a highly efficient method of identifying rare ligands from combinatorial nucleic acid libraries of very high complexity. It allows the selection of nucleic acid molecules with desired functions and it has been instrumental in the identification of a number of synthetic DNA and RNA molecules, so-called aptamers that recognise ligands of different chemical origin. The method is fast, it does not require special equipment and the selected aptamers typically bind their target with high affinity and high specificity. Here we summarise the recent examples of the SELEX technique within the context of identifying high-affinity ligands against parasite target molecules.