Meeting Report: PSB'2000

The Fifth Annual Pacific Symposium on Biocomputing (PSB'2000) took place January 4-8, 2000 at the Waikiki Sheraton in Honolulu, Hawaii. After an initial day of tutorials, 38 talks spread over 10 topic-tracks were given over the next four days, as well as one keynote address and a well-attended poster session with more than 60 displays. The symposium proceedings were published by World Scientific Press and are also available on-line (see below). There were roughly 240 attendees. Two approximate breakdowns of these attendees are 180 North American, 30 Asian and 30 Europe/Russia/Israel (by geography) and 110 university, 80 industrial, and 50 government laboratory (by institution). Though most of the attendees were academics, the talks focused on applied rather than theoretical aspects of biocomputing, and the mix of industrial and academic researchers ensured that interaction both within and outside of the sessions was lively and interesting.

The meeting started with a day devoted to three-hour tutorials on gene expression analysis via microarrays, genetic network analysis, computational methods for protein structure prediction, and bioinformatics programming in Python (scheduled tutorials on Bayesian inference algorithms and modeling biological evolution had to be cancelled at the last minute). Each tutorial had an associated booklet of introductory material and references that was provided to tutorial attendees, and additional copies were available for purchase at a nominal fee by other attendees. Activities on the remaining days of the meeting were organized around the following ten tracks:

Each track consisted of a lead session (a brief introduction to the topic by the track organizers followed by two to five talks) and a rump session whose organization varied from additional talks to oral presentations of relevant posters to panel discussions. Lead sessions were always scheduled alone early in the day, while rump sessions typically ran two abreast in the afternoon and evening. Position papers written by the organizers of each track and papers associated with all scheduled talks as well as selected posters were published in an archival proceedings, which is also available on-line along with proceedings for all previous PSB at the PSB website.

The above sketches what happened at PSB'2000. What was it like to be there? What follows are some personal notes as a first-time PSB attendee.

My first thoughts on hearing about a meeting held in a resort area during a holiday season is that it would be outrageously expensive and technically content-free. On the expense side, it turns out that travel to and lodging in Hawaii are amazingly cheap in the first week of January (a little-know fact exploited to great effect by the PSB organizers). On the technical side, I was impressed. I have previously attended what are arguably the two other major annual conferences in computational biology, RECOMB and ISMB, and I found PSB's content a refreshing middle ground between the theoretical algorithmics prevalent at RECOMB and the applied systems orientation of ISMB. This content is made even more interesting by the active participation (as opposed to the typical passive attendance) of industrial and medical researchers. Unlike RECOMB and ISMB (and indeed many other meetings), the full-text PSB proceedings are publicly available on-line before and after the meeting. Equally unique and innovative is PSB's approach to organizing sessions: As the tracks are proposed and solicit their own papers individually from year to year, the technical content is not only unusually focused and cohesive within sessions but the technical content of the meeting as whole changes yearly to reflect emerging research areas in biocomputing (indeed the final four tracks listed above have not appeared at PSB before). The resulting smorgesbord of topics is great for jump-starting interest in topics you didn't know you cared about; though I came for (and deeply enjoyed) the tutorial and sessions on molecular network analysis, I found unexpected fascinations in every session I attended (standout favorites being the panel discussion on the future of data mining in biocomputing and the sessions on identification of coordinated gene expression and regulatory sequences, natural language processing in biology, and cheminformatics). Finally, and by no means least, I found the gestalt of this meeting wonderful -- considerate and cordial interaction prevailed both within and outside sessions (something I attribute equally to the organizers and attendees), which made for a truly collegial atmosphere that is, unfortunately, not a given at scientific meetings.

In summary, I found PSB'2000 to be a great meeting both technically and personally and would recommend it to anyone wanting a capsule summary of emerging research areas in biocomputing. Planning is already underway for PSB'2001, which will once again be held at the Waikiki Sheraton in early January of next year; consult the PSB home page for details.

Todd Wareham
Department of Computer Science
Memorial University of Newfoundland