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October 23, 2019 / by Agnieszka Szmurło

Brief review of ASHG Annual meeting - Houston 2019

American Society of Human Genomics ([ASHG][ashg]) Annual Meeting is a huge event - this year George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston hosted almost 6,500 people from all around the world. During 5 days participants had a chance to join presentations, discussions, workshops, plenary sessions, sessions organised by companies and many others. Huge space was dedicated to company booths and posters. Later in the evening there were numerous receptions and parties organised by companies, universities and medical centers. There was also an official networking event.

We also had our poster there - “High-level optimizations over query engines ensemble: Accelerating distributed genomic data science.”(official abstract in agenda is here). Tomek Gambin had also a talk during Somatic Mosaicism platform - “Identification of low-level parental somatic mosaic SNVs and InDels in a large exome sequencing cohort of individuals with Mendelian disorders”.

ASHG Annual Meeting is definitely a place to be if you are interested in latest research and trends in human genetics. There are plenty sessions where scientists reveal their latest research results. As far as I know these has to be so new, that at the time of submitting abstract, they cannot be published yet. Such approach ensures that we will have only newest findings presented and … we will have hard time in choosing where to go! Many sessions are run in parallel.

The field that is the most interesting to us, bioinformatics, had also a few sessions. Many of them were about using Deep Learning and Machine Learning in general to create prediction models in variant interpretation. We had also presentations of tools created by large projects, like Genomic England.

High density of genomics enthusiast brought the most important genetic companies to the Exhibition Hall. This space was so huge it took a few hours to just go through the booths that were interesting to us. However in one place we had all latest products of major players like Illumina, PacBio, Oxford Nanopore, Bionano and others. Seems like NGS sequencing market is getting crowded - it’s not only one player anymore. This would definitely bring the costs down and increase quality of reads.

Poster sessions are usually underestimated, but in my opinion they are the most interesting part of the conference. It is impossible for everyone to present what they are working on during sessions, but having a poster there is easier to achieve. Thanks to that you get a very thorough overview on what people are working on presented in a very brief way - “industry in a pill”. So in bioinformatics we have Machine Learning, a few new tools for genome browsing/analysis, tools written to perform certain analysis. There was almost nothing around large scale data analysis and algorythmics. It shows that this world is still more “bio” than “IT”.

After days full of talks and getting knowledge in different ways there were numerous receptions and parties - networking opportunities. We had a chance to join a few, meet some new people and chat with our friends from different parts of the world on initiatives they are working on. Everything in a relaxing atmosphere :)

If we were to summarize ASHG Annual Meeting 2019… The overall impression was good, it’s always good to learn what top researchers are working on, what are the hottest topics in the field. However there was nothing big announced - no breakthrough in research, no revolutionary tools, no new huge projects. It looks like we have a lot of hard work in front of us and all the low hanging fruits are collected already.

Do we plan to visit ASHG Annual Meeting in San Diego next year? YES! This is definitely a must-be place for us. In the meantime we have ESHG Annual Meeting in Berlin, June 2020. I am almost sure we are going there as well.

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