Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Massachusetts Dreaming

Today I'm taking Amtrak to Cambridge--our fair city--MA, for an exciting back-to-back-to-back trio of conferences at the MIT/Harvard Broad (rhymes with "road") Center.

Two of the conferences are described as satellites to RECOMB (Research in Computational Molecular Biology), even though that meeting was in Tucson in May. One of these is on regulatory genomics and the other on systems biology. The third is the fourth meeting of the DREAM assessment of methods for modeling biological networks, a series I've covered since its organizational meeting at the New York Academy of Sciences in 2006.

There's a lot in common between these conferences, so it's not always easy to notice the boundaries. The most tightly focused is DREAM--Dialog on Reverse-Engineering Assessment and Methods. The goal is simple to state: what are the best ways to construct networks that mimic real biological networks, and how much confidence should we have in the results. In practice, things are not so straightforward, and border on the philosophical question of how to distinguish models and "reality." The core activity of DREAM is a competition to build networks based on diverse challenges.

The Regulatory Genomics meeting covers detailed mechanisms of gene regulation, often focusing on more formal and algorithmic aspects than would be expected in a pure biology meeting. The Systems Biology meeting addresses techniques, usually based on high-throughput experimental tools, for attacking large networks head on, rather than taking the more traditional pathway-by-pathway approach.

I'll be writing synopses of the invited talks and the DREAM challenges for an eBriefing at NYAS, but I'll be free to relax and enjoy the contributed talks and posters. This promises to be a rich and exhausting five days.

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