June 6, 2011–More than 100 people turned out for the inaugural Research Symposium on Bioinformatics and Systems Biology at the University of Delaware on Friday, May 27.

   Karl Steiner
Karl Steiner opens the inaugural Center for Bioinformatics and Computational Biology research symposium.
Symposium Crowd
More than 100 attended the Research Symposium on Bioinformatics and Systems Biology.

Hosted by the Center for Bioinformatics and Computational Biology (CBCB) and held at the Delaware Biotechnology Institute (DBI), the event drew faculty and students from various disciplines across UD, as well as representatives from companies, other academic institutions, and government labs and agencies.

Cathy Wu, Edward G. Jefferson Chair and director of CBCB, welcomed the participants and stressed the importance of close collaboration among multi- and inter-disciplinary teams in conducting bioinformatics and systems biology research.

“Our goal with this symposium is to provide an open and interactive forum to catalyze the cross-fertilization of ideas from these disciplines and foster multidisciplinary research collaboration,” she said.

The symposium featured a keynote on computational approaches to protein evolution by William Pearson, a preeminent scientist and pioneer in bioinformatics. Pearson, who is professor of biochemistry and molecular genetics at the University of Virginia School of Medicine, spoke about the strengths and weaknesses of similarity searching, a strategy for extracting biological knowledge from protein and DNA sequences.

While the technique is reliable and sensitive, he said, the massive increase in sequence volume demands more sophisticated strategies for exploiting sequence data. Pearson presented alternative approaches that can more effectively exploit biological sequence data.

A funding agency roundtable with representatives from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Department of Energy (DOE) discussed current initiatives and funding opportunities and offered special advice to junior investigators.

The symposium program also included invited talks by CBCB affiliated faculty members from seven departments across four colleges at UD. In addition, investigators, trainees, and students delivered more than 30 poster presentations.

“When we launched DBI back in 2000, one of our key goals was to establish a strong and sustainable bioinformatics capability in Delaware,” said Karl Steiner, senior associate provost for research development at UD. “This symposium was the culmination of a tremendous amount of work by Dr. Wu and many of her colleagues, and it highlights the successful establishment of the Center for Bioinformatics and Computational Biology. The topics and the speakers at the symposium were first class.”

The symposium was organized in conjunction with the third Little Skate Genome Annotation Workshop, which was hosted by CBCB, with participation by UD’s partner institutions in the North East Cyberinfrastructure Consortium (NECC).

NECC is a consortium of five states—Delaware, Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont—that are collaborating on building cyberinfrastructure with funding from the NSF EPSCoR and NIH IDeA programs. Researchers in the consortium are collaboratively sequencing and annotating the skate genome as a demonstration project for the growing network.

Attendees at the workshop and symposium included representatives from Nemours/A.I. duPont Hospital for Children, SDIX, the DuPont Company, Delaware State University, Delaware Technical and Community College, U.S. Army Research Laboratory, Georgetown University, and NECC partner institutions at Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory, University of Maine, University of Southern Maine, Johnson State College, University of Vermont, and University of New Hampshire.

Article by Diane Kukich on UDaily