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Imaging, Metagenomics on Display at ISMB 2008


The meeting covers computational tools and biological questions.

By John Russell

Sept. 5, 2008 | TORONTO—Some 1700 computational biologists attended the 16th annual Intelligent Systems for Molecular Biology (ISMB) conference*, now run by the International Society for Computational Biology (ISCB). On alternate years ISCB jointly produces the event with European Conferences on Computational Biology.

This was the second year ISCB fully managed the event. ISCB president Burkard Rost said, “Roughly 35 percent of all the major papers presented at all of the ISMB conferences were presented last year (Vienna) and this.”

About 200 talks covered nearly every type of computational tool, but it’s not just about tools, noted Jill Mesirov, a conference co-chair and CIO of the Broad Institute. “We’re very driven by the biological questions we want to answer,” she said. “We live on the interface: we’re driven by the biology and we’re also driven by the methodology and we need places to be able to exercise both halves of our brain.”

Attendance has dipped from the high of 2200 in 2004 (Glasgow), attributed to tightening travel budgets, visa difficulties for some, and lessened grant support.

Two scientists with close ties to J. Craig Venter were among the keynote highlights. Claire Fraser-Liggett (University of Maryland Medical School), Venter’s ex-wife, delivered the opening keynote, tackling the bewildering world of metagenomics in which computational tools are critical for making sense of the swelling pile of sequence data. And former Celera informatics chief Eugene Myers (Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI), Janelia Farm) surveyed a variety of imaging bioinformatics tools and made a strong pitch for imaging data and interpretation becoming the next important driver of biological insight.

Myers presented work on imaging intracellular activities, whole cell lineage, particularly neurons, in fruit flies and worms. He also discussed plans to image 300 whole brains from mice. The size of datasets from these experiments, he said, will dwarf genomic datasets.

Other keynoters included David Haussler, winner of the ISCB’s 2008 Senior Scientist Accomplishment Award (HHMI/UCSC); Bernhard Palsson, a leading microbial researcher from UCSD; Aviv Regev, winner of  ICSB’s 2008 Overton Prize (Broad Institute); and David Jaffe, associate director for computational research and development, Broad Institute. Major themes at ISMB 2008 included proteomics, imaging, and genomics/metagenomics, said Mesirov.

The ISMB 2008 keynotes are available at http://www.iscb.org/ismb2008/keynotes.php. Next year’s conference will be held in Stockholm, Sweden, June 27-July 2, 2009. 

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*Intelligent Systems for Molecular Biology; Toronto, Canada, July 19-23, 2008

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This article appeared in Bio-IT World Magazine.

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