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Record Numbers Attend, Exhibit at 10th International GSAC Conference


MIAMI BEACH, Fla.--Close to 2,000 attendees are expected at the 10th International Genome Sequencing and Analysis Conference (GSAC) here September 17-20. Conference organizers said recordbreaking numbers of exhibitors, researchers, and industry representatives have been attracted by a diverse and rigorous agenda, a chance to network in a field rife with job openings and partnership opportunities, and a larger and more accessible venue. The announcement earlier this year by Craig Venter, president of conference sponsor the Institute for Genomic Research, of his ambition to sequence the human genome within three years also probably did not hurt registration numbers, organizers conceded.

The four-day conference agenda, beginning at 6:30 pm Thursday and interrupted only for scheduled meals and sleep until Sunday evening, includes presentations by well known industry, government, and academic leaders, including Affymetrix President Stephen Fodor, Dean Hamer of the US National Cancer Institute, SmithKline Beecham Chief Scientific Officer George Poste, David Cox of the Stanford University School of Medicine, Ari Patrinos of the US Department of Energy, and Rita Colwell, director of the US National Science Foundation.

Sequencing sessions

Several individual genome sequencing projects will be presented, including C. elegans, Drosophila, and the mouse on Friday morning, and Arabidopsis thaliana during a plant genomics session Friday evening. Claire Fraser, known for completing the first sequence of a microbial organism at the Institute for Genomic Research, will discuss microbial genome sequencing in the presentation "Insights into Physiology and Evolution."

Several talks addressing plant genomics include Monsanto's Ganesh Kishore, "Plant Genomics and the Future of Agriculture and Nutrition"; Steve Tanksley of Cornell University, "Application of Genomics to the Identification, Utilization, and Cloning of Economically Valuable Genes QTL's in Plants"; and Harvard's Ray Goldberg, "The Future of Crop Genomics: Its Impact on Crops, Animals, and Humans."

Various aspects of human genome sequencing, including "The Feasibility of Human Whole Genome Shotgun Sequencing," "Large-scale Human Genome Sequencing by the DOE Joint Genome Institute," and "Human Chromosome 4 Sequencing" will be discussed Saturday morning.

Concurrent sessions on genomics, informatics, and technology will be held Friday, Saturday, and Sunday afternoons.

Hot topics

Conference cochair Chris Somerville, director of Stanford University's Carnegie Institution, said he expects increased attention to chip technology and microarrays at the conference this year. "The technology has been coming, but there has been a lot of activity this year. And nothing will change genomics like microarrays and gene chips will," he told BioInform.

Somerville remarked that in years past, microarrays have been hailed as the "next big thing," but, he said, "this year there are data available on experimental use of that technology." High-throughput screening and new sequencing technology will also be hot topics, he predicted. "There is a lot of excitement about the new capillary sequencers. There will be lots of backroom talk about them," Somerville said.

Perhaps even more than scientific discussions, networking opportunities are a big attraction for GSAC attendees, Somerville continued. "In terms of bioinformatics this is the place to make contacts and look at all the new packages," he said. "It's certainly the place I got the best sense of the demand for professionals in this field." Somerville remarked that bulletin boards typically display hundreds of job openings for bioinformaticists. "Anybody with any expertise can go there and find a job," he claimed.

New products

As of BioInform press time last week, 84 vendors of bioinformatics and genomics technologies had registered to exhibit products at GSAC. One exhibitor claimed that, sorting through attendee mailing labels he bought from the Institute for Genomic Research, he counted "about 400 attendees from exhibiting companies." Here is a preview of some of the new products that will be exhibited in the bioinformatics market.

Base4 Bioinformatics--Canadian systems integrator Base4 Bioinformatics will exhibit at GSAC for the first time this year. The company will demonstrate Version 2 of its PharMatrix discovery software package, which Martin Sumner-Smith, president, said features "a substantially improved user interface."

Compugen--Eitan Becker, integration projects manager for Compugen, said his company will exhibit the Bio XL/P, a supercomputer for sensitive homology searching. Although the product has been on the market about 10 months, Becker said GSAC will be one of the first occasions where it is displayed publicly. Previously, the Bio XL/P's capabilities have been demonstrated over the internet.

Becker noted that it was at a previous GSAC that Compugen revealed its first product and made its first sale of a BioAccelerator. "It's considered the most important conference of the year for us," he added. Compugen will hold a users meeting prior to the conference where new software will be previewed.

Genetics Computer Group--Product Manager Steve Smith said GCG will be showing its entire product line in a booth it will share with corporate parent Oxford Molecular. GCG's SeqWeb, launched about four months ago, is a web interface to the Wisconsin Package. Version 10 of the Wisconsin Package, which allows faster searching on parallel hardware, will be previewed.

GCG will also present a new application, a motif identification and searching tool, MEME/Motif Search, based on an algorithm developed by Tim Bailey at the San Diego Supercomputing Center. MEME/Motif Search contains two programs that identify conserved motifs among sequences and conduct a database search for the motif that was found, Smith explained. "If you have a family of receptor proteins, for instance, you can take a set of genes and MEME will identify conserved regions that define what a receptor is. Then you can search larger databases to find others that match this profile. It is very sensitive and very fast," he claimed.

SeqStore, available now only to early access customers, is GCG's relational database for storing public and in-house-generated sequence data and annotation. An updated version of SeqLab, the X Windows user interface to the Wisconsin Package with ABI trace support, will also be shown.

Oxford Molecular--The Omiga-GCG, a new Windows program for sequence analysis, will be Oxford Molecular's featured product, according to Marketing Program Manager Vic Menon. "The Omiga-GCG, a Windows interface to a subset of the Wisconsin Package, allows people to use the Windows client to access Genetics Computer Group (GCG) databases," he said. Menon explained that users can search and extract sequences through the Wisconsin Package, updated by CD ROM or weekly online updates, so that "a company can be assured that all its users are seeing the same data" without using the internet for searches.

Menon said several pharmaceutical companies are using Omiga-GCG under an early access program.

Oxford Molecular will also present Visual Phrap for Windows, a fragment assembly tool it plans to release in the spring. The tool, Menon said, uses phrap to interpret chromatogram files from Applied Biosystems and Amersham Pharmacia Biotech machines. "It allows you to build a contig based on sequence information you get from those machines," he explained.

Time Logic--Time Logic, manufacturer of computational accelerators, will unveil the Decipher RACE product line, which offers better than two-to-one price-performance ratio over competitors' products, claimed company President Richard Offerdahl. He said the new product series is made faster and more powerful by using new boards with new technology. "We're still doing 12 algorithms, and now we can run BLAST. So you can buy one machine to run all the search algorithms," Offerdahl observed. "A big Unix server can run 10,000 BLAST jobs a day. The one we're going to show here runs 100,000 BLAST jobs a day. That's better than one per second," he elaborated. What's more, he claimed, "Unix could run 20 Smith Waterman searches a day. The smallest version of our new product can run 9,000 a day."

A fully functional Decipher RACE will be demonstrated at Time Logic's booth.

--Adrienne Burke

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