There are just two weeks to go until the Festival of Genomics returns to London, and we are getting in the party spirit over here at FLG Towers. Over the coming weeks we will be sharing interviews with our inspiring speakers, all the news (and gossip!) from the show floor, and our top tips for getting the most out of your Festival experience. The Festival is free to attend (!!!), so if you fancy joining in with London’s best celebration of all things genomic, you can sign up here.

For day one of our Festival countdown, content manager Liz Harley shares a day in her life racing around the show floor at Festival of Genomics California. 

Festival of Genomics California

Before the rush begins…

Covering an event the size of the Festival of Genomics is a busy gig. Any given day can involve several meetings, a lot of networking, and of course, taking part in the content. So for this year’s coverage I have resurrected (sort of) our popular live blog of yesteryear in the form of a Festival diary. Find out what a day at the Festival looks like through the eyes of a content manager…


Our Uber driver, a full-time pastor who only drives for a couple of hours each day, drops us off at the San Diego Convention Centre for day one of the Festival. I’m travelling with a full complement of AV tech in tow. As well as my usual Festival jobs, which include attending sessions, writing about sessions, and networking for my life, one of my jobs today is to film some video content with one of our exhibitors. So I stagger into the venue weighed down by two cameras, a tripod, and sound equipment. 


As the start draws near there’s always some last-minute nail-biting as we wait for the first speakers to appear. But now we’re ready to roll, and FLG managing editor Carl Smith steps into the breach to open the Festival and introduce our glorious CEO, founder, and enlightened leader Richard Lumb. He may not be Mick Jagger (his now famous opening gambit from FOG Boston 20150, but we love him all the same.


After Richard comes Kevin Falconer, the Mayor of San Diego, who welcomes genomics and biotechnology to the city with a flourish. We’ve written about San Diego as the genomics capital of the world, and it’s not just us – San Diego has been voted one of the best cities in the US from which to launch a brand new biotech company, many of which are adding to the growing buzz on the exhibition floor.

Stephen Kingsmore, of Rady’s Children’s Hospital, follows Kevin to talk us through his record-breaking genetic diagnosis. From start to finish the whole process took just 26 hours, an astonishing achievement and one that is now being leveraged across the hospital to speed up diagnosis for babies presenting with rare conditions.

Next up Jack DiGiovanna from Seven Bridges shares some key insights from the Million Veterans program, and Carl gets super excited about the Seven Bridges Graph Genome platform.


At this point I leave the plenary stage and scurry across the show floor to catch the first presentation in the Enabling Data track, given by Eric Banks of the Broad Institute. Eric is excited about the cloud. Really excited. He’s also extremely proud of the time that the Broad inadvertently took one of Google’s data centres offline with their sheer volume of genome data. Just in case you were in any doubt that genomics is BIG data.


Filming time! Capturing video from a tripod in a busy exhibition hall is always interesting, juggling sound, focus, and making sure that your perfect shot isn’t obscured by a passing visitor. But in spite of a few rogue cameos the project goes well.


I inevitably end up doing a lot of meetings at any Festival. Being based in London I often have to interact with people over the telephone, so this is an excellent opportunity to put familiar names to less familiar faces. Not to mention a great opportunity to catch up with friends. So for a couple of hours I jog around the exhibition getting caught up and meeting people, and grabbing some much needed lunch! And taking a quiet moment to type up my notes from the morning sessions.


I’ve been looking forward to this panel discussion all day: “Your idea for a startup sucks”, chaired with comic aplomb by Geoffrey Reid, Head of Genome Informatics for Regeneron Pharmaceuticals. Anyone will tell you that I am fascinated by start-up businesses in tech and biotech, because some of them are going to change the world, and some of them are just plain bonkers. This presentation opens with a slide of Grumpy Cat. I reckon this will be good.

A large portion of the discussion is focused around the commercialisation of ideas, and when those ideas will make an effective business and when they won’t. Top insights from the panel for people starting companies include “No, don’t do it.”, and “Do it, but be prepared to work extremely hard. It’s an emotional rollercoaster.”

“One of the most important things is not just knowing what to do, but knowing what not to do… you need a really good idea, excellent science, good people, and the timing has to be right.”


I’ve been looking forward to this all day. For the fifth time, Lynn Bush brings “DNA dialogues, dilemmas and drama” to the Festival stage, with a brand new plot and a new cast in place. For 50 minutes we are transported to a series of obstetrician and genetic counsellors’ offices to explore the ins and outs and consequences of genetic screening. The play is one of my favourite parts of any Festival, both thought-provoking and extremely funny at the same time!


We’re on the homeward stretch, the final countdown towards the networking drinks (woohoo!). But before then it’s time time for the second panel of the afternoon – “Using databases to optimise the use of genomics in oncology”.


Time for networking drinks! And a well-earned glass of wine for all. 

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