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At This Year s PAG It s Easy on the Pop-Up Rug Display and Heavy on the Wish Lists

SAN DIEGO,  Jan. 16 - Activity is robust here at the 10th annual Plant, Animal & Microbe Genomes Conference.

 

Attendance is up more than 7 percent, reflecting the 1,805 people who registered, according to conference manager Darrin Scherago. The number of abstracts has followed suit, climbing to 1,173 from 932 last year and nearly doubling what was on order in 1998. The number of participants from outside the US - more than one-third of the total - grew this year too as did the number of foreign exhibitors.

 

Quite an increase in interest. Surely the draw can't only be Styrofoam cup holders, company pens, and those T-shirts compressed into four-inch squares and packaged in cellophane. So what gives?

 

Money does.

 

"You put $40 million to $60 million in plant research grants and people have a lot to report," according to Stephen Heller, chairman of the organizing committee for PAG, which ends on Wednesday. He was referring to what he says is the roughly $60 million in funding that the National Science Foundation has been doling out for agriculture research annually for the past two years.

 

If you're an exhibitor, one way to attract that money--or at least curious onlookers--is to employ an elaborate booth. No longer are booths "pop-up rugs with posters attached," said Paul Haje, director of business development and marketing for Sunnyvale, Calif.-based TeleChem/Arrayit.com. "This year there are custom construction with wood veneers and special lighting" - standard fare for most other conventions around the world, but novel accoutrement to this normally mild-mannered convention.

 

And with perhaps more to spend on technology, what's on conference attendees' wish lists? Herewith a sampling:

 

"More people are getting into microarrays," said Catherine Pettem, sales coordinator for biotechnology at Waterloo, Ontario-based Virtek Vision Corp. "People are becoming less dependent on core facilities. They no longer have to stand in line behind 10 researchers [to get microarrays]."

 

Robert Solazzo, business development manager for bioscience products at Agilent Technologies, said attendees are quizzing him about custom microarrays, and in particular those for Arabidopsis, which Agilent plans to introduce in the first half of 2002, Solazzo said.

 

According to Jason Lockhart, of genome services at Invitrogen, the hot topic is proteomics. But to Rod Rodman, sales and marketing manager for biosolutions products at Varian Analytical Instruments, "the biggest thing on [attendees'] minds is high throughput."

 

People are asking about "GMO testing," said Stephanie Rimer, senior sales consultant with Cepheid. "Testing for GMOs is more stringent in Europe than the US. Europeans are asking about that," she observed.

 

Attendees are asking "what level of genotyping would work for them," said Harry Vacek, business development manager at Orchid BioSciences.

 

"They really want to get into microarrays," added Todd Martinsky, a principal at TeleChem/Arrayit.com. "There's a lot of people at this show who have still not upgraded to microarrays in the lab. They haven't gotten over the hump yet."

 

John Gonzales, key account manager at Lion Biosciences, said people are interested in "comparative genomics and data integration."

 

"People are asking for data management with computation," explained Maciek Sasinowski, CEO of Williamsburg, Virginia-based Incogen.

 

Scientists "are trying to eliminate problems in hybridization," said Frank Becker, vice president of international sales at Genomics Solutions. "Three years ago when you told them we had a hybridization machine that was $60,000 they looked at you like you had three heads," said Becker. "Now there doesn't seem to be nearly so much trepidation."

 

Mervi Heiskanen, senior scientist at Compugen, based in Israel, said attendees "are interested in custom oligo design such as wheat, cattle, and pig."

 

People are asking "what's the most cost-effective screening platform for SNPs," said Grant Gibson, executive account manager at Austin, Texas-based Luminex. "They're trying to convert from gel-based methods to more specific SNP genotyping."

 

Still, free faux beanie monkeys can't hurt.

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