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ISMB 98: Growth Indicates Increasing Demand For Computational Biology


MONTREAL--Close to 450 computer engineers, molecular biologists, and bioinformatics practitioners representing industry, government, and academia in more than 20 nations gathered here June 28-July 1 for the Sixth International Conference on Intelligent Systems for Molecular Biology (ISMB). Attendance was recordbreaking, as was the number of papers submitted and the number of student entries to a poster contest. Attendees heard a wide range of presentations on research into the informatics and mathematics of protein structure and folding, and of methods for storing and analyzing genetic data.

Larry Hunter, president of the International Society for Computational Biology, the conference sponsor, said the message conveyed by the conference is that the growth of the computational biology field mirrors the growing number of difficult problems in the area. "All the predictions about how central bioinformatics will be to genomic research are coming true," Hunter said. "That's why we have so much going on. From high -throughput screening to chips to finishing the genome, all of these events generate informatics challenges," he added.

Hunter said the conference was evidence that "some of our informatics approaches are maturing to the point of commercialization, and some of these problems are still wide open."

François Major, a professor in the computer science department at the University of Montreal and an ISMB organizer, told BioInform that one of the goals of the conference is recruiting potential candidates to the field. Thus $45,000 in fellowships raised from industrial sponsors was granted to encourage student attendance, and two days of tutorials were offered the weekend before the conference commenced.

Major commented, "The first example that computers were needed in pharmacology was in 1983, when Russ Doolittle found a human growth factor that was homologous to a protein extracted from cancer cells of a monkey. Now, 15 years later, there is a big community here addressing all aspects of computers in genetics."

The International Society for Computational Biology, which was launched during the 1997 ISMB conference in Greece, encouraged attendees to join the society. Hunter said the $65 membership now comes with perks including discounts on publication subscriptions, conference registrations, and access to an improved web site including an ongoing online job fair.

ISCB opens office

With ISCB membership numbering 500 prior to the conference, Hunter said the demands of running the society are quickly overwhelming its volunteer board. He is now seeking an executive director and plans to open an ISCB office this year. Five new ISCB board members appointed during the conference were: Sorin Istrail, Gene Myers, Toni Kazic, Eugene Kolker, and Steve Brenner. Hunter was reelected ISCB president. Chris Rawlings, Daniel States, and Terry Gaaster land were reelected to their positions as vice-president, treasurer, and secretary, respectively.

Heidelberg, Germany will be the site of the Seventh ISMB conference, which is being scheduled to coincide with a total eclipse in August 1999. For more information see

--Adrienne Burke

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