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PAG 2020 conference once again up for the challenge

PAG 2020 conference once again up for the challenge hero image

At this year’s Plant and Animal Genome (PAG) Conference, held from January 11-15, 2020, over 3,000 attendees representing 62 countries came together in sunny San Diego to engage with peers and industry professionals to address an ever-growing issue: how to improve plant and animal breeding programs to meet the challenges of food security in a world with robust population growth and climate change. 

I’ve attended PAG for the past nine years and look forward to it every January.  I have seen how much it has grown in attendance and in importance to the scientists and researchers whose career focus is dedicated to making life a little better and/or tastier for the rest of us.  It was also nice to catch up with familiar faces, people whom I met through business travel, a partnership/collaboration, or just at a prior conference, and with whom I share a passion for knowledge, learning, and innovation.

(Side note: Thankfully, the Town and Country Hotel and Conference Center is going through a major renovation and it seemed like the food options were better this year, so I’m looking forward to future conferences, since it seems that the conference organizers have a perpetual agreement with the hotel.) 

One of the most satisfying things for me, personally, was to witness the continuing evolution of new technologies and tools to enable scientists to better understand the genomes of such a diverse range of species.  Having been in the biotech industry for over 20 years and focusing primarily on developing tools for genetic analysis, it’s gratifying to see people embrace your value and the value that your company’s products provide.  It doesn’t seem so long ago that researchers were using fragment analysis and microsatellites as the standard to determine genetic variation and for selection from a relatively small number of individuals; many researchers still do.

However, there is a clear shift more recently to adopting SNPs as molecular markers for marker-assisted selection, marker assisted introgression and genomic selection applications.  Using high throughput and highly multiplexed tools ranging from qPCR assays, microarrays and next generation sequencing-based targeted genotyping, breeding programs have scaled up to thousands - or even millions - of individual samples.  And as the number of samples that get genotyped increases, it seems the cost per genotype has decreased more exponentially than linearly, further enabling the goal of genetic gain and speedy progress.  The ability to sequence whole genomes and understand the genetic diversity across species and their sub-varieties has truly been a game-changer.

There is no lack of choices for cutting-edge technology as companies race to develop better and more cost-effective tools.  Nevertheless, I’m super proud to work for a company like IDT, whose range of products can be directly applied to agricultural applications, and whose legacy and continued dedication to innovation will help breeders, molecular geneticists, and lab scientists carry on their important work. 

Interestingly, I was initially feeling really good when a whole bunch of customers came up to our booth and said, “We get all of our primers from you.”  That’s great to hear and, yes, synthetic DNA oligos are the foundation for many genetic applications.  But then I thought maybe IDT has carved out such a good reputation for oligos that people might not consider us as a leader for other genomic solutions.  As a company we’ve been around for over 30 years and have also evolved tremendously from mainly an oligo provider to a genomic solutions provider.

Did you know that IDT also has a wide range of product solutions including qPCR assays, enzyme-containing master mixes, targeted genotyping by sequencing and CRISPR tools for genome editing?  Not to mention long DNA constructs for synthetic biology and cloning applications.  Next time if you happen to come to San Diego for PAG, drop by our booth and say hi and tell us how much you love our oligos.   We love that.  You’ll see we’ve also grown to help you with more than just simple oligos.