In Dublin, ISMB Celebrates Bioinformaticians

When it comes to bioinformatics — the kind of equation-rich, in-the-weeds technical detail that makes many a molecular biologist want to run the other way — there’s no event quite as geek-chic as ISMB. (It also has a unique family atmosphere.) This year, the 23rd annual International Conference on Intelligent Systems for Molecular Biology was held in conjunction with the 14th European Conference on Computational Biology in Dublin.

It was a privilege for QIAGEN Bioinformatics to serve as a sponsor of this event, and a treat for our team to attend and exhibit. After all, we’re still a bunch of computational folks who feel most at home hashing over the code of an algorithm to get it just right. So we fit right in with the other 1,500 attendees vying for the best view of the presentations and poster sessions!

Keynote presentations this year came from scientists including Stanford’s Michael Levitt, Eileen Furlong from EMBL, Kenneth Wolfe from the University College Dublin, and Amos Bairoch at the Swiss Institute of Bioinformatics. Stellar award presentations honored the Broad Institute’s Curtis Huttenhower and Cyrus Chothia of the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology; it was inspiring to hear about their experiences and advice for the field.

It was clear that genomics has entered the world of big data, as several speakers focused on data compression and methods for quickly discarding data that isn’t needed for future analysis. This will continue to be a major challenge in this field as databases grow. After all, biologists are trained to save every bit of data, but long-term storage won’t make sense for many applications. We’ll need to find clever approaches like the ones that have worked so well in astronomy and other fields facing an overwhelming volume of data.

Alex Kaplun, PhD, one of our team members from Global Informatics Solutions & Support also enjoyed giving a talk about a comparison of predicted promoters in two different builds of the human reference genome. In addition to the data, he shared insights that were gained about how regulatory features, such as transcription factor binding sites, are distributed.

We’re already looking forward to next year’s ISMB! In the meantime, we’re going back to the office and giving our brains a quick break before we start to think of exciting new ways to take advantage of everything we learned in Dublin.