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AAAS Speakers: Genomics Progress Will Require Breakthroughs In IT Innovation

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ANAHEIM, Calif.--Improved information technology is essential to ensure progress in genomic research, Rita Colwell, director of the National Science Foundation told an audience gathered for a genome seminar during the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science here last week.

Speaking at the seminar organized by Craig Venter of Celera Genomics and Barbara Jasny of AAAS and Science, Colwell said a "breakthrough in information technology" was essential to handling the massive volume of data that would be generated by genomic research in coming years. It is important, she continued, to allow public access to what she called a "treasure trove" of information to help people make decisions about how it will be used.

One of the important uses for technology will be understanding genomic function, Vice-President Al Gore told AAAS meeting attendees. In a speech, Gore said, "A detailed understanding of this structure-function relationship [of proteins], reached through computational simulation, would have enormous implications ranging from more effective drugs to more efficient cleanup of waste sites." That relationship, he added, is now "only poorly understood."

Gore outlined a proposed $366 million federal investment in information technology research contained in the fiscal year 2000 budget. The item, which represents a 28 percent boost in federal information technology research funds, is part of an initiative called Information Technology for the Twenty-First Century. According to the January 15 issue of Science, the effort entails boosting by $1 billion over the next five years the estimated $1.5 billion the government spends annually on information technology research. Not only will the US National Science Foundation benefit from this largesse, but the US Department of Energy, NASA, and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency are also in line for information technology budget jumps. The increase was recommended by the President's Information Technology Advisory Commission, which concluded that federal support for information technology is anemic.

Colwell, not surprisingly, endorsed the added money. She emphasized the need to train people at the "interface of biology and other sciences in computing" and highlighted the importance of genomics. "Biological systems can't be understood without genomics as a tool," she concluded.

--Harvey Black

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