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After the Genome Conference Assembles Think Tank to Answer, What s Next?

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SANTA FE, NM--Although it isn't the chief topic, bioinformatics is playing a prominent role in After the Genome III, a by-invitation-only conference here this week that aims to explore what comes next after the human genome is fully sequenced and mapped. The event, which began October 25 and runs through the 29th, is hosted by the National Center for Genome Resources and has the theme "Redefining Functional Genomics."

"The primary focus is what's going to happen after the human and other genomes are done, the new kinds of information people will be looking at and new things they can do with that information," explained Peter Schad, vice-president of bioinformatics and biotechnology for the center and a member of the conference's planning committee. As far as bioinformatics is concerned, he added, a key issue is "how information will be stored and retrieved so biologists can use it." Therefore databasing and database design will be addressed, Schad said.

He also predicted a "big swing in the future back to traditional biology," as the "focus on finding and cloning a gene becomes more routine and straightforward." Ultimately, the conference aims "to define the future of genomics by identifying technical hurdles, promising new solutions, and possible social and industrial implications of the work," the organizers stated.

Given the fact that the conference isn't open to general attendance, it's "more of a think tank," Schad continued, observing, "One of the biggest highlights is collecting that group of people." Organizers, who expect total international attendance of 100-120 prominent genetic researchers and policymakers, aimed to assemble "a wide range of people, not all from one or two areas, so you start to get cross-disciplinary discussions," he explained. Among the sectors represented are pharmaceutical companies, academia, both large and small biotechnology companies, and government, Schad added, with speakers as diverse as Chris Sander from the European Bioinformatics Institute and US Senator Pete Dominici.

Although the conference is noncommercial, Sun Microsystems and IBM will have demonstration exhibits, the first such appearances at an After the Genome meeting, according to Schad. However, the companies were asked "to bring more senior or research people, rather than salesmen," he emphasized. Jim Herriott, senior Java technologist at Sun, will give a luncheon presentation on "Enabling a New Model for Information Processing."

The conference is chaired by Susan Weininger, president of the Seattle-based biotech company Exonic. Others on the planning committee in addition to Schad included Susan Burgess, vice-president for corporate development at Structural Bioinformatics, and Doug Smith of the University of California, San Diego. Bioin formatics-related session topics include Whole Genome Functional and Expression Analysis; Gene Functional Determination and Cataloguing; Genome Browsing and Analytical Frameworks; Advanced Data Analysis; Analysis of Genomes for Drug Discovery; Proteomics; and Diverse Data Mining Strategies. Two sessions were also planned in which attendees would help plan After the Genome IV.

The National Center for Genome Resources here is a nonprofit bioinformatics organization, founded in 1994, that provides genetic information and services for scientists, medical professionals, policymakers, lawyers, and the public.

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