Saturday, August 31, 2013

It has begun

The conference kicked off yesterday. I would have wrote about it last night, but afterwards I went and found some pizza for dinner, came back to the hotel, did the jet lag zombie thing and fell asleep. Still, it's getting better, I didn't wake up until just after 5 this morning and there was some cold pizza waiting for me.

First observation. It's a lot bigger than I thought it would be. I have no idea why but on the basis of no evidence what so ever, I had assumed that there would be 2, maybe 300 people. There's at least 500, probably closing in on 600.

Second observation, related to some of the tea room conversation I had just before I left NZ. Casual glance at the speaker list ~ 1 in 10 speakers are female. Casual glance at the audience, I'm guessing ~ 2 in 5 are female. I could be wrong with those numbers, but not sufficiently wrong to prevent me from asking what gives? Disappointing.

The first keynote speaker, Stuart Kauffmann was apparently in the building but had gone missing so we launched straight into the science. It took me a few minutes to realize that we had launched straight in with a talk on nucleosome mediated epi-genetics. Cis-regulation of genes (not transcription factor based). Interesting at the mechanism level yes, but it didn't really grab me.

Marc Vidal, the second speaker talked about exploring the unexplored regions of the human interactome. Of which funnily enough there is quite a bit. He was doing this multiple ways - text mining literature for protein protein interactions  was a big one, though I thought the fact that interactions mentioned only once weren't as trustworthy as interactions mentioned multiple times was a bit of stating the obvious.
So the immediate thing that I already have out of this conference is text mining. I've been aware of it's existence obviously, but not so much of it's utility applied to the field of systems biology.

Kauffmanns talk about personalized medicine had good points and bad. The bad being that he'd prepared it on the plane and it was a bit ... rambling or vague at times. Our health care system, or at least the US health care system is still in the mindset where you find one drug to treat one conditions while trying to minimize the side effects. So this talk for me, paralleled Sorens talk from the workshop. Kauffmann was talking more about extracting the data directly from the biology, something that I suspect is still a little out of our grasp, given the magnitude of the system involved (people). Sorens was a more realistic, data driven approach, extracting information from clinical reports at a coarser grain than desired by Kauffmann.

Of the industry keynotes, the chap from SGI, Eng Lim Goh was both entertaining and informative. Briefly (and humorously) comparing systems biologists to the NSA in our desire to collect all the information in case there is something that we don't know about that we don't know is in the data we currently collect. The amount of data SGI deals with is staggering - they deal with NASA and paypal and all sorts of other big data people as well. Though if I read one slide right, their 2nd biggest customer is the people who are working with the wheat genome. Also from the very random cool factoid box, when the square kilometer array gets turned on, it's going to be generating data equivalent to youtube. Every day.

Interesting if not mind bending keynotes. And a couple good of random conversations at the drinks afterwards. Productive first day. Can't help but feeling I won't be getting to the meat of the conference today. Not sure what I'm doing this afternoon, but I'm definitely hitting the Temporal Phenomena across biological timescales session this morning. For now, it's either ty and get another hours sleep or coffee. Can't decide.




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