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Microbial Genomes II: Informatics Focus Is Scaled Back from 1997 Conference

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HILTON HEAD, SC--At the Institute for Genomic Research's Microbial Genomes II conference, going on here through tomorrow, informatics is a critical undercurrent running throughout the agenda, but there aren't a lot of bioinformatics-specific speakers or sessions, according to organizers. Instead the emphasis is on biology and "trying to bring together more of the microbiology community that has perhaps not given much thought to genomics or informatics, but is now getting intrigued," explained Claire Fraser, the institute's vice-president for research and a cochair of the meeting.

Nevertheless, bioinformatics "is sort of an underlying theme through all of the talks," she continued. "You can't do science on this scale without having the appropriate bioinformatics tools." The focus on biological issues is also the result of an effort to create a unique niche for the conference in a field crowded with bioinformatics events, Fraser acknowledged.

Subtitled "Sequencing, Function al Characterization, and Compara tive Genomics," this year's meeting is actually "less bioinformatics-intensive than last year," when there was an entire session devoted to databases and bioinformatics tools, she told BioInform. She said it is likely similar sessions will appear on the program again in the future, but the change was made in part to keep the agenda fresh. Also, bioinformatics has become such an established modus operandi in the genomics field that it no longer requires the special attention it once did, according to Fraser. Finally, there is little about bioinformatics approaches to microbial genomics that is unique to the field. The same technologies generally apply regardless of the nature of the genomic target, she commented.

One of the big topics addressed by the conference this year is evolutionary questions. "We will be looking at evolution on a genome level," Fraser said. Another theme is how genomics is changing the field of biology. "Part of the goal of this meeting is to focus somewhat more on genomes and biology," she noted.

"Another thing we were able to do last year and hope to do again this year is to bring together ex perts in genomics and experts in microbiology," she told BioInform. "We want to explore the best ways to exploit genomic information to answer biological questions."

Mike Knapp, the institute's vice-president of scientific education programs, noted that about 325 attendees were expected, a double-digit percentage increase over the 1997 event, with a significantly larger contingent from industry than attended the previous conference. One attraction to commercial-sector registrants is "the opportunity to interact with people actually doing the research," he observed. There will also be a dozen exhibitors, Knapp said.

The conference agenda features 56 speakers, with session topics including Genomes and Biology, Microbial Genome Project Updates, Genome Analysis, and Microbial Genomics and New Therapeutics. The organizers defined broader interest areas as sequencing and biology of human and animal pathogens; sequencing and biology of Archaea; lessons learned from completed genomes; updates on genome projects in progress; functional genomics; molecular evolution; and bioinformatics and databases.

Among the informatics-directed talks are "E-Cell: Software for Whole-Cell Simulation" by Masuru Tomita of Keio University; "Data Management in High-Throughput Sequencing Environments" by the institute's Owen White; and "Microbial Gene-Finding with Interpolated Markov Models" by Steven Salzberg of the institute and Johns Hopkins University. Pro ceedings from the conference will be published in the institute's Jour nal of Microbial and Compar ative Genomics.

The other cochair in addition to Fraser is Bart Barrell of the Sanger Centre. The conference's organizing committee included George Weinstock of the Univer sity of Texas-Houston Health Sci ences Center; Monica Riley of the Woods Hole Marine Biological Laborato ries; Ed DeLong of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Re search Institute; Vivek Kapur of the University of Minnesota; and John Mekalanos of Harvard Medical School.

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