BIO 2008: The Sequencer and the Terminator

Scheduled meetings kept me from the events I’d most wanted to attend: • the live versions of Schwarzenegger’s and Craig Venter’s keynotes (I made it to the tail end of the “overflow” line, where we were treated to lunch and the keynotes on video) • a meeting of former FDA commissioners, “A Blueprint for FDA” in which Dr’s Kessler, McClelland and others discussed the Agency’s challenges and the issues it faces. Dr. Venter has always fascinated me, since he was apparently a “late bloomer” in science and, some report, almost dropped out of high school (joining another mover and shaker of the biopharm world, Bill Gates, whose foundation is bringing cures within the reach of more people throughout the world). There are precious few late bloomers to be found among today’s scientific elite, as evidenced by the winner of the BioGENEius high school science competition. And no traces of the surfer dude could be detected in Dr. Venter’s serious and low key presentation (at one point, he had to point out a joke that the audience had missed). Among the highlights was a discussion, toward the end, on why biotech research is so essential (growing population, pollution) as well as an overview the Venter Institute’s recent pioneering work in synthetic genomics. Dr. Venter’s presentation was presumably the piece de resistance, but the Governor was late, so he “opened” the session. Whether or not you agree with his politics, Governor Schwarzenegger has become a consummate public speaker. Although his public approval rating in the state has, by some accounts, slipped to around 20%, he was a natural leader at the podium. He opened the speech with a gentle joke about political differences between himself and his wife, flattered the scientists in the audience, and also spoke compassionately about the importance of biotech research to developing cures for Alzheimer’s disease, referring touchingly to his father-in-law’s condition, something that many families can relate to. He also highlighted the fact that his administration has done more to advace cutting-edge medical research than some nations. With Proposition 71 four years ago, California devoted $3 billion to fund stem cell research taking on a controversial cause that Washington has preferred not to deal with. ….When Arnold later moved to the California booth on the show floor, a mob scene ensued. AMS