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Striking Scientific Advances and Marketing Displays Captivate 2,100 GSAC Attendees

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MIAMI BEACH, Fla.--Many attendees said they were awed by certain scientific developments and new technologies presented here last week at the 11th International Genome Sequencing and Analysis Conference, which drew 95 exhibitors and a crowd of 2,100 individuals--up 300 from last year. In his opening remarks, Craig Venter, president of Celera Genomics, called the meeting the benchmark for progress across genomics research and said that, as the date when the human genome sequence will be completed approaches, the field is moving toward concentrating on the interpretation of data. "A century from now we will still be trying to understand all of this information," he said.

Claire Fraser, president of the Institute for Genomic Research, the event organizer, remarked that she was pleased that the annual meeting's continued growth has not been at the expense of scientific excellence.

But others, who noted that some of the field's most prominent scientists and research facilities, such as MIT's Whitehead Institute, Washington University, and the US National Human Genome Research Institute, were not represented in the agenda, complained of an increasingly heavy commercial influence at the meeting.

Although only five of 29 plenary lectures were presented by commercial entities, including Incyte and Celera, sponsors' marketing efforts were hard to miss. Event-sponsors Celera and PE projected their logos on billboard-size screens during a dinner in the main lecture hall, and in the exhibit hall vendors scrambled to get airtime on an Incyte-sponsored closed-circuit television channel and gave away hundreds of T-shirts, toys, and trinkets emblazoned with company insignias.

Among plenary lecturers, Gene Myers was widely considered by attendees to be the most notable. Myers described his work at Celera Genomics to develop an algorithm for assembling the whole Drosophila genome. His presentation, which followed Gerald Rubin's progress report of the Berkeley Drosophila Genome Project and a description of Celera's whole-genome shotgun sequence of the fruit fly, served to convince some who were skeptical of Celera's chance to succeed at its goal to sequence the human genome on deadline.

Other plenary sessions included descriptions of the use of microarrays in identifying gene function in Arabidopsis and updates on microbial and mammalian genomic projects. Fraser predicted potential uses for the results of microbial genomics research in such areas as hazardous waste cleanup, fuel production, global climate control, biodiversity management, and agriculture and forestry. She said 115 microbial sequences are scheduled to be completed in the next few years. Randy Scott, CEO of Incyte, told the audience that his company had increased its estimate of the number of human genes to 140,000.

The fast-changing nature of genomics research was also reflected on the trade show floor, where one vendor observed that there seemed to be as much "wheeling and dealing" among exhibitors seeking partnerships with each other as between exhibitors and potential customers. Several vendors announced what appeared to be revamped approaches to the marketplace. For instance, Pangea Systems previewed a new bioinformatics-related web portal that it said would comprise a significant piece of its future business strategy. eBioinformatics also announced its entree to the e-commerce world, and Incyte said it would begin offering free online access to selected gene expression microarray data and experiments, allowing visitors to download datasets for analysis. Here is a rundown of some other new technologies presented at the exhibit.

eBioinformatics said it aims to become the America Online of bioinformatics with BioNavigator, its new graphical, web-based workspace software, available via subscription.

Genetics Computer Group, an Oxford Molecular Group company, launched the 2.0 version of Omiga, its sequence analysis software for Windows, with enhancements that include integrated support for searching public DNA and protein sequence databases.

Geospiza demonstrated its new Finch-Suite of bioinformatics software components. Added to the company's Finch server, Geospiza president Todd Smith said the components in the suite--a sequencing request manager, chromatogram manager, Blast manager, and data repository manager--form a complete package for DNA sequencing and analysis.

Incyte said it will expand its database programs to analyze DNA variation between individuals, RNA, and protein expression.

InforMax demonstrated its just-launched Vector NTI Suite 5.5 desktop integrated sequence analysis, data management, and results-presentation software. In its hospitality suite, InforMax showcased the latest release of its enterprise bioinformatics system, Software Solution for Biomedicine version 2.0.

Lion Bioscience demonstrated arrayScout, a new software tool for analyzing DNA-array data. The product enables scientists to identify gene clusters and interpret subtle expression differences within multiple expression profiling experiments.

Neomorphic introduced its Annotation Station, a system for annotating DNA in order to examine predictions in a condensed graphical view that allows scientists to impart their own biological knowledge based on the views. Cyrus Harmon, president of Neomorphic, told BioInform that the product has been driven by his company's collaborative effort with the Institute for Genomic Research to build an annotation system for Arabidopsis.

NetGenics previewed Synergy Gene Expression, a new application for Synergy, the company's application integration product. The package links a client's expression data, enabling the information to be viewed and manipulated through the software and its clustering, sequence analysis, and metabolic pathway tools.

Pangea Systems announced that DoubleTwist.com, a web portal designed to simplify online genetic research for life science researchers, is being beta-tested at Stanford University and will become generally available in December. Pangea said the website would offer online data, automated profiling and monitoring agents, and software tools. During the conference, Pangea announced that it had struck a deal with Myriad Genetics to make a public version of Myriad's ProNet protein interaction database available through the site.

Paracel announced upgrades to its massively parallel sequence similarity search engine, GeneMatcher, and introduced four complimentary software products for automated, high-throughput sequence analysis.

Synomics staff engaged a steady stream of visitors with demonstrations of Alliance, an integration framework that can link existing systems in a "flexible, scalable, and technology-neutral" manner. Synomics said it has created a "cohesive environment for knowledge-led research by integrating third-party software systems and databases.

TimeLogic demonstrated hardware-accelerated Phrap and Blast on its DeCypher Race genomic analysis accelerators, as well as new graphical alignment viewing, and iterated Hidden Markov Model sequence-clustering functions.

--Adrienne Burke

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