MARCO ISLAND, Fla., Feb. 7 - Some 400 people flocked here for the fourth annual Advances in Genome Biology and Technology conference. As usual, attendees are staying at the plush Marco Island Marriott Resort and Golf Club, where front desk clerks answer the phone, "Welcome to paradise, how may I help you?"
The official opening of the conference yesterday had people in high spirits. Early reports from vendors indicate more booth traffic and better leads than expected.
But, as ever, the vendors at this all-science-all-the-time conference are beside the point. Scientists crowded in yesterday as Rick Wilson, director of Washington University's Genome Sequencing Center, launched into the first session. At a conference known by some as the "anti-GSAC," Wilson joked about whether it was the "end of the feud" as he introduced the first keynote speaker, TIGR chief Claire Fraser.
Fraser was just as jovial. "Because there has really never been a feud, I left my white flag at home," she began. She gave the first in a series of talks on emerging genomes, which in addition to her report on microbes included presentations on honeybee, Ciona intestinalis, stickleback, and cow.
In her keynote, Fraser gave attendees a progress report on microbial sequencing: there are now 95 complete prokaryotic genomes, and more than 100 others are in the works. The main problem so far, she said, is that the population of sequenced microbes is skewed toward "organisms that can be grown easily in the lab."
She also used her time to warn scientists to keep abreast of government debates on whether sequence information - in particular, sequences of pathogens - should be kept public. "There are high-level conversations" going on, Fraser said, contending as she has in the past that this information must be kept available. "Despite my sense that this is much ado about nothing, I think it's important for us not to portray that attitude."