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Bioinformatics and Bumper Cars: Over 1,300 People Pack Tivoli Gardens for ISMB 2001

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An amusement park may seem an unlikely venue for a bioinformatics meeting, but participants at this year’s Intelligent Systems for Molecular Biology conference didn’t allow the festive surroundings of Tivoli Gardens, Copenhagen, to distract them from the meeting’s events.

Indeed, with six satellite meetings, a tutorial day, industry software demonstrations, job fairs, and daily workshops in addition to the main meeting held July 21-25, ISMB 2001 offered enough diversions of its own to keep attendees off the roller coasters until well after the closing remarks.

S¯ren Brunak and Anders Krogh of the Center for Biological Sequence Analysis at the Technical University of Denmark co-chaired the meeting, which was considered a great success by all accounts. Organizers had to cut off registration at 1,300 people (up from 1,200 last year), but could easily have registered up to 2,000 if there had been more room, Brunak said. Of the attendees, 40 percent came from industry, 35 percent came from academia/government, and 25 percent were students.

In addition to the record attendance, Brunak said a new high of 180 full-length papers were submitted, of which 38 were accepted. Dana Pe’er of Hebrew University won the award for best paper for “Inferring subnetworks from perturbed expression profiles.” Of the seven keynote talks, Christopher Dobson’s talk on protein folding and Sean Eddy’s discussion of genes that encode RNA rather than proteins generated the most buzz from participants. In another first, the proceedings from the meeting were published as a special issue of the journal Bioinformatics.

But the continued success of the meeting is not without its drawbacks. Organizers of ISMB 2002, which will be held in Edmonton, Canada, are expecting at least 1,800 attendees but are preparing for up to 2,500. With that large a draw, the inevitable issue of whether to move toward parallel sessions remains a sticking point. Russ Altman, president of the International Society for Computational Biology, said that ISCB members voted 2:1 against parallel sessions, but proponents of each side staunchly defend their ground. On the one hand, Altman said, “We’re simply rejecting too many good papers right now.” But others fear that doubling the number of papers presented would dilute the value of having a paper accepted.

Despite its growing pains, ISMB remains the “one bioinformatics conference that everybody goes to,” in the words of one attendee. And even those participants who complained that ISMB is getting too big, too broad, and too long said they’d be back next year in Edmonton.

— BT

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