GenBank's 25th Anniversary (Highlights)

I know the liveblogging is hard to read–it is really a reflection of my notes as the talks were progressing. I’m going to clean them up a bit, but mostly I’m going to leave them in case people need a quick summary of what was discussed. The videocasts for the talks are still going to be available, but they are unfortunately in giant many-hour chunks with no guidance as to what is in there exactly, or when you might try to find them.

So I’m going to highlight a few things here that I found especially interesting (and indicate where in the videocast you might find it). Of course, you may have other areas of interest and find other things you prefer. Feel free to watch all of them! Details of my choices below, and the approximate time on the video. You can move the slider to get to that approximate time point.

Day 1 permanent link: 1h 8min in on day 1) Bruno Strasser‘s talk on the History of GenBank was very compelling to me. Many of the people in the room had been around LANL or NIH at the time all this was happening, or had been involved because of their research. But for me this provided a really fascinating framework for how we got to where we are today in this field. It illustrates sequence databases in the context of natural history collection activities vs. experimental biology, and the tensions around getting financial support for this kind of work. In bioinformatics if you have seen the competition between the benchwork and the computer work from a funding perspective, this will help you to understand why that exists. And I think it is helpful for thinking about funding of large projects going forward as well.

sublime4.jpg(about 4h 5 min in on day 1) Jim Ostell: If you ever wondered why GenBank files look the way they do–how they got that structure–this talk provides a funny look at that “evolution”. Despite the caption, I don’t actually remember any nudity involved. But I was typing, may have missed it.

(about 5h 38min in on day 1) Craig Venter: I know he’s a controversial figure, but if you want to hear what he says himself about the work around the JCVI on metagenomics and the theories, issues, and results around that type of research, this is a good one to see. Also, I found the phylogenetic representations of synthetic species slide important food for thought about how synthetic organisms are going to fit into the databases and analyses that we will do in the field of bioinformatics.

Day 2 permanent link:

(about 50 min in on day 2) David Relman: Presenting work on metagenomics and large-scale sequence generation analyses right after Sydney Brenner had pretty much dissed that type of data collection and analysis (see ~45min in), he did a really nice job describing his work on microbes and their relationship to human health. Among other stuff, he talked about a study of the different microbes residing on different teeth in the same mouth–and what the challenges are for obtaining that data and analyzing it. If you are thinking about the future of genomics and metagenomics, I would encourage listening to this one.

(about 2h 22 min in on day 1) Francis Collins: He gives such good talks. I am always amazed at how well he knows the current details of the data coming out when he’s got to have so many other things to do. I mean, I have trouble keeping up…how does he do it?? His talk was a nice blend of his own history of sequence data, what’s going on now, and where we are going. If you are thinking a lot about GWAS studies (genome-wide association studies, pronounced by everyone as gee-wass) and the databases, tissues, and tools we are going to be needing for them, this may be worth seeing for you. Near the end he touches on some of the issues and anxiety around “personal genomics” including the potential for discrimination if personal data gets into the hands of insurers and employers. This discrimination would be unjustified based on the science right now, but also “unjustified on the basis of the principles of equity and justice.” He includes some of the frustrations around the GINA legislation as well. (He also snarks on Congress, actually: ~03:13:02). He also notes:

“So we have I think–more than ever–the need for a generation of computational biologists to also be human geneticists to help us through this next very exciting phase of really getting the whole spectrum of how heredity place a role in health and disease.” (Francis 3:16. heh)

2 thoughts on “GenBank's 25th Anniversary (Highlights)

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