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GSAC Newbies Point to Proliferation of Genomics Technologies

SAVANNAH, GA Sept. 22 (GenomeWeb News) - Yes, GSAC is smaller this year. And no, the exhibit hall is not swarming with scientists in Teva sandals and Hawaiian shirts, ready to strike up a heated discussion about BAC maps vs. shotgun sequencing over a couple of beers.


For those GSAC veterans who wax nostalgic about the days of earlier conferences in Hilton Head and Miami, this 15th annual TIGR conference is, well, a bit washed up.


But in the relative quiet of the exhibit hall, there's a whole new wave of small genomics companies-first-timers whose employees don't have drawers full of faded extra-large GSAC T-shirts. The presence of these new companies and their second-generation technologies, amid the waning of the conference as the genomics event of the year, shows how genomics has now proliferated beyond a small elite, to the wider scientific community.


Take, for example Allometra, of Davis, Calif. The startup is marketing its PyMood desktop genomic data visualization program, an application designed for use by biologists, not technogeeks. "All the user needs to know is Excel,and the FASTA format," said Marta Matvienko, the company's founder and CEO. In one of Pymood's visuals, an organism's proteins become color-coded dots clustered within the 3-D space of a cube. The distance from a linear cluster at the center of the cube reflects the divergence of these proteins from those in similar organisms.The user can click on various dots to find out more about a specific protein.


This technology represents a migration of bioinformatic tools from the realm of the genome elite to that of the everyday scientist-the biologist with little knowledge of or interest in IT development. Matvienko, a Celera alum, is such a biologist, and she founded the company because all of the existing software was difficult to use and not relevant to her work. "As a biologist I could never find software that would satisfy my needs," she said.


Matvienko's target audience is the ordinary academic scientist who has never been able to afford the fancy visualization software before, and she has priced the package accordingly--at $2000 for industry and $1400 for academics. So far, she said, GSAC has been a good conference for getting the word out to these people.


BioIntegrated Solutions, a microarray and liquid handling robotics maker based in Prospect Heights, Ill., is aiming at a similar slice of the market. The company, which was founded last year, was showing off its desktop microarrayer, the BioSpotter, at its booth today. The system, priced at $25,000, is designed to make home-built microarrays accessible to the ordinary scientist, according to Tapush Roy, the design engineer manning the booth today. In his sales pitch, Roy said this system is priced at $10,000 less than comparable systems, and offers the added advantages of containing two built-in wash stations and being gable to handle both 384- and 1,536 well plates.


Other newcomers to GSAC included Integrated DNA Technologies, an Iowa-based oligo supplier which rolled out its RNA interference reagents at the conference exhibit; SoftGenetics LLC, of State College, PA, which introduced its software for analysis of DNA variants; and OpGen, which has been developing software for rapid physical mapping of microbial genomes. (See the current issue of SNPtech reporter for a feature on the company).


Additionally, febit, of Mannheim, Germany, made its US debut at the conference, six months after saying that it would wait until 2004 to take its geniom one microarray system across the Atlantic. Popular demand for the geniom one among US customers, along with the desire to hasten the setup of its US office, is what led the company to come to GSAC, company officials said.

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