The Fourth Annual International Conference on Computational Molecular Biology (RECOMB'2000) took place April 8-11, 2000 at the Tokyo Big Sight International Conference Center in Tokyo, Japan. A total of 36 talks and 8 invited lectures were given over four days, accompanied by a poster session with 120 displays. The conference proceedings were published by ACM Press, the poster abstracts were published in a hardcover volume by Universal Academy Press [MST00], and full text is available on-line through the ACM Digital Library. There were roughly 280 attendees. Two approximate breakdowns of these attendees are 80 North American, 120 Asian and 80 other (Europe/Russia/Israel/ Africa/South America/New Zealand) (by geography) and 130 university, 80 industrial, and 70 government laboratory / hospital (by institution). Attendance was down from a previous years, which was attributed to the meeting being perceived as both far away and too expensive by potential non-Asian attendees; however, those who did show up were treated to a showcase of cutting-edge research in computational biology.
The talks were given sequentially in 15 sessions over 4 days. An approximate breakdown of talks by topic is gene expression analysis and genetic networks (5), molecular structure (10), evolutionary trees (5), sequence analysis (8), physical mapping and sequencing (4), and miscellaneous (4). The first three days of sessions were punctuated by the following invited lectures:
Given the above facts and figures, what was it like to attend RECOMB 2000? I found that Japan's reputation as an expensive country is well-deserved; however, the local organizers did an amazing job of making it all affordable. The accommodation at the Tokyo Bay Ariake Washington Hotel (which was adjacent to the conference site) was comparable in price to many conference hotels I have stayed at in Europe and the US, and I found the rooms a tad small but very comfortable. The hotel rate included a Japanese / Western breakfast buffet, which in combination with the various lunches and dinners provided at the conference meant that few meals had to be sought elsewhere. As for the meeting itself, the primary focus continues to be on problems involving molecular structure and sequence analysis, though in the last two years there has been a noticeable and welcome increase in presented work on so-called "post-genomic" problems, particularly those dealing with gene expression analysis and genetic networks. Also refreshing this year was the increased prominence of medical concerns (arguably, one of the ultimate goals of computational biology research) as well as the opportunity to hear first-hand about current Japanese work in computational biology.
As I noted in a previous conference report [War00], each of the major computational biology conferences (RECOMB, PSB, ISMB) seem to have staked out their own turf with respect to technical content. However, comparisons on other matters are inevitable and occasionally useful. For example, unlike PSB and ISMB, RECOMB has no associated tutorials. That being said, the talks at RECOMB are uniformly outstanding, particularly the invited lectures. Indeed, the professional stature of the invited speakers at RECOMB makes their collected lectures almost as valuable as the talks presented in the rest of the meeting. This will become more apparent with the advent of iRECOMB, an ongoing collaboration between the RECOMB steering committee and MIT Press that will archive and make available on-line video and text of all future RECOMB talks and invited lectures starting with RECOMB 2002.
In summary, I found RECOMB 2000 an exciting and stimulating meeting. Though I cannot recommend it as a first meeting for those wishing an introduction to computational biology, RECOMB is the acknowledged showcase of the best algorithmic work done in any given year in the area, and those who have some prior knowledge with which they can orient themselves are very strongly encouraged to attend. Planning is already underway for RECOMB 2001, which will be hosted on April 21-24 by the Centre de Recherches Mathematiques (CRM), an institute associated with the Universite de Montreal in Quebec, Canada; please consult the CRM website for details.
[MST00] Miyano, S., Shamir, R., and Takagi, T. (2000) Currents in Computational Molecular Biology. Frontiers Science Series no. 30. Universal Academy Press, Inc.; Tokyo, Japan.
[War00] Wareham H.T. (2000) "Conference Report: PSB'2000." SIGBIO Newsletter, 20(1), 27-28
Department of Computer Science
Memorial University of Newfoundland