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Biocomputing Symposium Provides Forum For Emerging Technologies


KOHALA COAST, Hawaii-- The Pacific Symposium on Biocomputing is expected to draw nearly 250 delegates here January 4-9. Organizers of the conference, which is in its fourth year and has grown 25 percent in attendance since last year, said the meeting has become a leading forum for the publication and discussion of emerging issues in biocomputing.

An international community of computational biologists will exchange research into databases, algorithms, interfaces, visualization, modeling, and other computational methods as applied to biological problems, with an emphasis on applications in data-rich areas of molecular biology. Conference chair Russ Altman of Stanford University told BioInform that because the conference "is organized around tracks that are proposed and organized from the bottom up by the research community, we tend to have critical mass in emerging areas of interest before other conferences."

For instance, Altman said, a successful session on genetic networks at the 1998 symposium was the first of its kind. This year, he said, "we see a move towards computing with functional information in biology with sessions in physiology, functional implications of protein disorder, and genetic networks."

The symposium is sponsored by the International Society for Computational Biology with support from the US Department of Energy and corporate sponsors including Amgen, Axys, Cisco, Compaq, Genome Therapeutics, Merck, Silicon Graphics, and Zymogenetics. Altman said that although the conference is mostly a meeting of academic researchers, participation from industry is significant "both among the track organizers and attendees."

Scientific sessions will be organized around eight topic areas: gene expression and genetic networks; data mining and knowledge discovery in molecular databases; computer modeling in physiology; information theoretic approaches to biology; molecules to maps: tools for visualization and interaction; computer-aided drug design; protein structure prediction; and, disorder in protein structure and function.

A tutorial program was added this year to offer three-hour background classes to enable nonspecialists to appreciate session contents. Altman said registration numbers indicate that the tutorials are popular.

In addition to scientific talks, there will be an open poster session. Phil Bourne from San Diego Supercomputer Center will provide an update on the status of the transition of the Protein Data Bank from Brookhaven to new curators at his center, Rutgers, and the US National Institute of Standards and Technology. The Asian-Pacific Biology Network, which was formed during last year's event, will host a public meeting. Steven Benner of the University of Florida will deliver the keynote address, "Functional Genomics: Connecting Natural Selection with Protein Sequence."

Altman said the conference has been successful in its efforts to attract broad Asian and Australian participation. He remarked, "We are filling an important niche, especially since the other major bioinformatics meetings--Intelligent Systems in Molecular Biology and Recomb--will be held in Germany and France this year.

The symposium, which is always held in Hawaii, will be in Waikiki in 2000 and 2001.

--Adrienne Burke

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