Discontent at GSAC

It should be hard to complain in Hilton Head when the weather?s this nice, but a few folks have found a reason. J. Craig Venter voiced his discontent, yesterday evening at this year?s GSAC (a.k.a. Genomes Medicine and the Environment 2005). Groups aren?t moving fast enough toward the $1000 genome. So, to grease the wheels he?s upping the ante on the $500,000 prize he promised to the first group to achieve a human genome for a grand. In an impromptu announcement, he referred to the logo o

By | October 19, 2005

It should be hard to complain in Hilton Head when the weather?s this nice, but a few folks have found a reason. J. Craig Venter voiced his discontent, yesterday evening at this year?s GSAC (a.k.a. Genomes Medicine and the Environment 2005). Groups aren?t moving fast enough toward the $1000 genome. So, to grease the wheels he?s upping the ante on the $500,000 prize he promised to the first group to achieve a human genome for a grand. In an impromptu announcement, he referred to the logo on his baseball cap ?It?s showtime.? Though he wasn?t exact about details, he reminded the crowd that he?s been talking with other board members of the X-prize foundation to increase the spoils by 10 or 20 fold. That?s a lot of money for a contest that hasn?t really set its rules yet. Anyone looking for a job? At a round table discussion major funders of environmental genomics initiatives discussed what is right and wrong with scientists? current approaches. David Kingsbury of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation complained that J. Craig Venter?s seawater sequencing projects, were ?finding too many new things.? So, the Foundation funded another 150 sequences for known (read, cultured) microbes to see if that would provide enough reference sequence so that new samples would start just providing variations on the same themes ? they haven?t yet. Ari Patrinos head of biological and environmental programs at the Department of Energy put it in a more positive, if not more humbling light. Metagenomics which continues to pump out genes of unknown function has put us in a place where ?our ignorance is growing faster than our data, which is a great place to be.? He had his own quibbles, however, chiding biologists for not making a good case for needing the best computational resources. Even though biology has some of the most interesting problems, in many instances implementation of computational resources has fallen short in comparison to the way physicists, for example, use the technologies. If life scientists want access to the petaflop machine that he assured us is coming down the pipeline, they?d better ?get with the program,? he scolded. Other instances of discontent? After a presentation on NIH support for embryonic stem cell research from the embattled James Battey, who?s been in the middle of the country?s biggest science v. politics v. ethics battle for several years now, conference attendee Lissa Morgenthaler-Jones, went on the attack. Morgenthaler-Jones, partner of the VC group Arare venture (and an Arnold-Schwartzenegger-for-prez campaigner) asked whether the 22 hES cell lines approved for funding under Bush?s policies were not indeed useless for therapeutic purposes as they had all been cultured with murine feeder cells. Battey said ?That?s not what Don Fink of the FDA had communicated to me.? Fending off her question about the degradation of current approved lines, he emphasized the need to freeze down early passage cells and said that Jaime Thompson has assured him that lines have survived at least 7 years. Want more? Really? Well, after a presentation by 454 life sciences which has been rolling out a new DNA sequencing platform in partnership with Roche, Zhenghe (John) Wang, complained that the emulsion based PCR process at the heart of their sequencing strategy was actually developed by Bert Vogelstein, his former postdoctoral adviser. Presenter Jonathan Rothberg credited Andrew Griffiths of the MRC. The history may not be easy to sort out, but the patent application is in.
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