Graph: ISMB Participation since 1993, for a larger version of the graph, click here

ISCB in Review

CComputational biology—the unique mix of molecular biology and computer science—has come of age in recent years, earning status as a scientific discipline in its own right. The development of the field and the high demand for qualified professionals have given rise to the International Society for Computational Biology (ISCB), an organization dedicated to the advancement of scientific understanding of living systems through computation.

Since its founding in 1997, the Society has grown to over 1300 members and looks to sustain strong membership growth in the near future. Current ISCB president, Philip E. Bourne of the San Diego Supercomputer Center at the University of California San Diego, says, "This is a critical time in bioinformatics and biology. The science is booming and we're here to bring the benefits of a professional society to the world of computational biology."

In 1993, the Society's founder, Larry Hunter, now at the University of Colorado, started the first Intelligent Systems in Molecular Biology (ISMB) conference, held in Washington DC. During that meeting and the ISMBs that followed, members of what would become the Society's board of directors had discussed the formation of a formal group related to the emerging discipline of computers in biological science. Ultimately, the need to house the funds for the ISMB conference spurred the formation of the Society.
At the 1996 ISMB in St. Louis, a union of all of the previous years’ conference steering committees, serving as the Society’s inaugural board of directors, encouraged the formation of the new society and elected an executive committee with Hunter as president. The Society was legally incorporated in early 1997.

After four one-year terms, including a four-month break from September 1997 until January 1998, when Chris Rawlings at SmithKline Beecham served as acting president, Hunter resigned. In 2000, the board elected Russ Altman at Stanford as the second president. Altman's track record included salvaging the 1994 ISMB conference when it unexpectedly wound up moving from Seattle to Palo Alto and he campaigned with a two-sentence platform, "We need more members. Without members, it's a waste of time."

During Altman's tenure, the board instituted the initial legal and administrative scaffolding of the Society. He also developed a mechanism for the election of officers rather than the board making the appointments. In transferring responsibility to his successor, Altman remarks that Bourne now has the challenge of figuring out what to do with the rapidly expanding society. "Phil is the perfect next president. He's going to now take the basic building blocks and push them in new directions," he says.