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At PAG, It s No Onion, No Cry

SAN DIEGO, Jan. 20 (GenomeWeb News) - Chris Kik of Plant Research International of Wageningen, the Netherlands, is an onion and garlic specialist who attended the five days of the 13th annual Plant and Animal Genome Conference, arguably the largest annual gathering of scientists specializing in the genomic research of non-human species.

During his presentation, he flashed a slide of an onion on the screen, telling the audience, "this is the first time, and maybe the last time, you will see this at a genomics conference."

Onions, Kik said, are an example of a plant species that "can't plug into the model crops" scheme, he said, which dictates the queue for genome sequencing, and the pecking order in the genomics world.

"All things cluster around model crops," said Kik.

Onion is not likely to be sequenced anytime soon due to its "huge genome," and because its growth cycle produces one seed crop in two years. Its closest model organism is the lilly.

Still, Kik and thousands of other researchers, largely plant specialists, come to PAG every year. This year, scientific attendance was 2,004 researchers, up from 1,826 last year, according to conference organizers. A total of 1,436 attendees came from the US, up from 1,212 last year, while international attendance was 568, down from 614 last year. After California, Iowa provided the largest group in attendance.

For Kik, it's a chance to interact with other plant researchers - and attend some nine sessions on onions, among some 60 species-focused meetings that began years ago when pine-tree researchers created their own mini-session.

Conference organizer Stephen Heller said PAG reflects the desires of the attendees. "It's a bottoms-up meeting," he said. "The conference leadership is wise enough to follow the attendees' wishes. Anyway, scientists would rather run their own meeting than be put into a slot."

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