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ISMB Sees Satellite Meetings Proliferate as Specialized Bioinformatics Efforts Evolve

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As interest in the annual Intelligent Systems in Molecular Biology conference continues to mount — attendance shot from 450 in 1998 to 1,200 last year and an expected 1,300 this year — the meeting has also spawned a growing number of satellite conferences to accompany the main event.

While the Bioinformatics Open Source Conference (BOSC) and the Bio-Ontologies Conference bookended last year’s meeting in San Diego, ISMB 2001 boasts six satellite meetings and three days of related workshops between July 19 and 27 in Copenhagen, Denmark.

In addition to BOSC 2001 (July 19-20) and Bio-Ontologies 2001 (July 26), this year’s meetings include the BioPathways Consortium meeting (July 19-20), SIGSIM 2001 (the Special Interest Group for Biological Simulation’s meeting on computer modeling of cellular processes, July 20), WEB ’01 (Workshop on Education in Bioinformatics, July 26), and BRIE & OAP 2001 (Biological Research with Information Extraction and Open-Access Publications, July 26).

This year’s Bio-Ontologies conference has set upon a theme of “Sharing Experiences and Spreading Best Practices.” Alan Flett of Semantic Edge will be the keynote speaker, and will discuss the use of ontologies in the business world. Ten short talks and a panel discussion will follow. The organizers expect over 125 attendees.

Over 100 people have registered for the BioPathways meeting, according to Vincent Schachter, one of the conference organizers. “Pathways informatics is exploding right now,” said Schachter. The consortium is still emerging as an organized entity, but has set some ambitious goals — beginning with establishing models and theories to support the development of tools and algorithms, and eventually progressing to building pathway models with real biological data. Schachter said the meeting organizers hope to pull together researchers from the private and public sector to “build critical mass that will allow discussion on both the theoretical and practical sides of the equation.”

BOSC organizer Chris Dagdigian said approximately 160 people have registered for BOSC 2001, which will focus on existing life science open source efforts. Dagdigian said the organizers have two parallel goals this year: “Putting on a conference with interesting presentations and posters specifically geared towards open source life science tools and efforts, and providing a place and forum where ideas and synergies created by bringing together all these talented people in one place can take root and flourish.” The organizers will provide computer facilities and meeting rooms for ad-hoc meetings and BOF (birds of a feather) sessions to encourage new ideas.

One advantage of gathering so many bioinformatics experts together in one place is the opportunity for cross-fertilization of ideas and methods. Schachter noted that the BioPathways Consortium is trying to enlist BOSC for “a common session to gauge if and how the two groups could play a role in the I3C [Interoperable Informatics Infrastructure Consortium] initiative. A number of ideas for fruitful interaction have been mentioned, and hopefully will coalesce by ISMB’s end.”

While Dagdigian pointed out that the open source community “spends very little time posturing and blathering about ‘standards’ and ‘integration,’” he does see a role for the open source community within more organized standards efforts. “One of the trends that I think will emerge is that the various Open Bioinformatics Foundation projects will in some cases be the first third-party group to independently create working implementations based on the standards now being worked on by various groups such as the OMG, I3C, etc.,” Dagdigian said.

“That is how I would like to see us in the future: Let other groups fight over standards and we will be the ones creating independent open source implementations of the interesting stuff.”

— BT

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