Bioinformatics Summit at UIUC

Seminar: Bioinformatics Summit | News | Computer Science | UIUC:

"The Department of Computer Science will hold its first Bioinformatics Summit next week. We hope this will be a significant step in encouraging more interaction and increasing collaborative research among researchers on campus in the areas of bioinfomatics and computational biology."

Since this is the few times that I have been to a summit, I was curious to find out what usually transpires in one. The Oxford American Dictionary defines summit as:

a meeting between heads of government
Since this definition is not really pertinent to our scenario, I consulted the thesaurus and it revealed possible synonyms as meeting, negotiations, conference and talks. Basically, a summit is an event when people can talk about their work. In this case, it was also to help foster more interaction between researchers on campus specifically those from the Institute for Genomic Biology (IGB).

I attended the session on March 8. While it was a nice start, I felt that it could be better. Here's why:

One way to solve the communication barrier (CS researchers are not familiar with a lot of terms from the biological world, and researchers from the biological world are not familiar with the technology in computers) is to have a walkthrough in the research lab. It could be in the CS lab or the IGB lab. It does not matter. Both groups just need to see what the other group needs and what they can provide. It's so much simpler than having to attend talks and lectures. Just go tour the lab for a few days and see what they need. I am sure that solutions, though not necessarily optimal ones, shall present themselves over time. Since the field of bioinformatics is relatively new, there aren't that many books written about the best practices of the field. In fact, I would be really wary of a book like that since the field is continually evolving and what you have this month would probably be supplanted by new technology very soon. That being said, there are still some books that could be useful. Look out for these books from O'Reilly.

Anyway, I am glad that the CS department in UIUC is making an effort to collaborate with the life sciences department. Bioinformatics per se is probably not going to be the next big thing in the future. However, its footprint might have a significant impact on other areas of computing. From my visit to Purdue University, I realize the importance of privacy when accessing this kinds of information. For instance, if company A wants to check some biological information with company B, it should not be able to access other data from company B. Similarly, company A should not be able to access any other information from company B. In short, the transaction should be transparent to both companies in the interest of corporate safety but at the same time, it should foster some kind of information sharing between the two companies since it is impossible for one company to hold all the information about all your clients.

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