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TIGR Pulls the Plug on GSAC; End of an Era as 2004 Meeting Becomes Group's Last

NEW YORK, Oct. 8 (GenomeWeb News) - This year's Genome Sequencing and Analysis Conference was TIGR's last.


As attendance has fallen in recent years, The Institute for Genomics Research "has decided not to move forward" with a 17th installment. "Alas, we have come to the end of an era," Amy Rabin, TIGR's conference manager, wrote in an e-mail to participating vendors today.


Though the meeting has in the past been considered the seminal gathering for genome sequencing researchers and the tool vendors that supply their labs, GSAC has suffered dwindling attendances over the past couple of years.


Craig Venter, a TIGR co-founder and its current chairman, said that this year's conference would enjoy 500 attendees. In fact, he said meeting organizers decided to cap the attendee headcount at 500. The number never reached that height: It was estimated that 460 people registered to attend the meeting -- including the 29 exhibitors and the handful of staffers manning booths.


By comparison, 1,850 attendees made it to the 2002 meeting in Boston. GenomeWeb, publisher of GenomeWeb News, has been a commercial sponsor of the event since 2000.


"The program was phenomenal," TIGR President Claire Fraser told GenomeWeb News during this year's gathering, which took place in Washington, DC, Sept. 27-30. "Too bad the attendance is not what it used to be."


Exhibitor grumbles echoed gripes from previous years: "Booth traffic seems slower," Barb Grossmann, a GE Healthcare official, said at her company's booth during the meeting. GSAC organizers "want to pull back from the commercial side."


"They succeeded," added her booth companion, John Schneider.


GSAC has been faced with the challenge of changing its identity in recent years. How does an annual meeting built on gene sequencing -- a relative novelty when the conference was founded 16 years ago -- thrive in an environment where gene sequencing is commonplace, and new innovations demand center stage?


The kinds of presentations at this year's meeting reflected this challenge. The brunt of the talks devoted to gene sequencing -- which had enjoyed top billing at past GSACs -- were relegated to the tail end of the conference. Instead, leading this year's meeting were reports on environmental genomics, complete with an update by Venter on his nautical sojourn.


A TIGR official did not return multiple telephone calls seeking comment.