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Recent Meetings in Boston and New York Offer Different Views of Bioinformatics

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NEW YORK--An international group of more than 250 molecular biologists and computer programmers converged in Boston last week for the two-and-a-half day Bioinformatics and Genome Research conference. Program director Christina Lingham of Cambridge Healthtech Institute said the event, which was started seven years ago by Hwa Lim and his graduate students at the Florida State University Supercomputing Research Institute, has evolved away from computational theory to focus on applications, with a balanced mix of presentations by bioinformatics tools developers and researchers at sequencing centers and life sciences and pharmaceutical companies.

Among vendors speaking at the conference were Raveh Gill-More of Compugen, who explained Compugen's drug target development platform LEADS, and Peter Karp of Pangea Systems, who discussed new developments in his company's EcoCyc database of E. coli genome sequences. Incyte Pharmaceuticals and Molecular Applications Group also presented.

Other speakers were categorized informally as "sequence producers" and "sequence consumers." In a session on crop genome informatics, Benjamin Bowen of Pioneer Hi-Bred and Antoni Rafalski of DuPont discussed the effect of genomics on the seed industry and gene expression information from plant EST data.

Brought up for panel discussion several times was the need for improved sequence annotation methods. Speakers and attendees alike criticized nonstandardized, unregulated annotation methods that propagate mistakes.

The need for automation was also a recurrent theme. Michael Zody of the Whitehead Institute/MIT Center for Genome Research called automation a major informatics issue. Software needs to be designed to automate the difficult, repetitive tasks that consume the bulk of scientists' time, he said.

BIO nods to bioinformatics

While bioinformaticists engaged in technical discussions in Boston, here biotech executives and investors engaged in heavy-duty networking at BIO '98. Bioinformatics was on the agenda but wasn't a major focus.

One of the most visible platforms for bioinformatics was the apperance of Craig Venter, president and director of the Institute for Genomic Research (TIGR) on the opening Plenary Session agenda. He discussed his plans to establish a new company with Perkin Elmer Applied Biosystems that aims to sequence the entire human genome within three years. Venter observed that the computational and database needs of the project will be enormous.

Meanwhile, at the Boston meeting, TIGR's Steven Salzburg fielded technical questions about the new enterprise. He said a formal announcement about the company is expected July 1.

--Adrienne Burke

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