By Randall Osborne

West Coast Editor

SAN DIEGO ¿ With its theme of ¿partnering for life,¿ the Biotechnology Industry Organization opened BIO 2001, its eighth annual BIO 2001 International Biotechnology Convention & Exhibition, over the weekend.

Almost inevitably, the matrimonial-sounding motif of this year¿s event was expected to include anti-biotechnology activists on the sidelines who are speaking out ¿ and law enforcement officials have been preparing to hold the peace.

¿We anticipate more protesters [than last year],¿ said Dan Eramian, BIO¿s vice president of communications, describing as ¿very well behaved¿ about 1,500 marchers at the BIO meeting in Boston, where last year¿s event was held.

The meeting began Sunday. More attendees are expected this year, too, topping last year¿s record-breaking 12,000, Eramian said.

¿It¿s hard to say right now how many,¿ he said. ¿San Diego is similar to Boston, in that you have a large local community, and we don¿t know how many walk-ons we¿ll have.¿

BIO has ¿been working with the police for more than a year,¿ Eramian said. During one of the innumerable television appearances made by BIO spokespeople last week, he met with a member of a group called the Ruckus Society.

¿We had a relatively pleasant conversation,¿ Eramian said. ¿We agreed there¿s a certain amount of media hype going on.¿

There¿s definitely a certain amount of coverage likely for the conference itself. About 500 media representatives will be among the throngs of attendees in the San Diego Convention Center, Eramian said.

In line with the partnering theme, more than 230 companies will offer presentations in the third annual International Investor & Partnering Forum, and more than 1,000 individual partnership meetings between companies have been scheduled.

Also planned are a technology partnering forum, a career fair, a seminar on procurement and supply chain management, a program for the professional development of teachers, and more.

¿We get better and better at doing these,¿ Eramian said, adding that ¿there¿s a strong bioethics track this year,¿ to educate and assist attendees in dealing with exactly the sort of objections raised by the industry¿s more credible critics.

Activists already had made their presence known in the city, Eramian said Friday.

¿They were here yesterday, slapping GMO labels on foods in a supermarket,¿ he said. The argument over genetically modified organisms in agriculture will be among topics explored during the conference ¿ in sessions and, less formally, outside.

¿You have at least three or four groups that consider themselves mainstream, peaceful groups,¿ Eramian said. ¿Then, we have reports of some groups that are little more prone to civil disobedience and perhaps violence.¿

Support from local officials, he said, has been ¿outstanding.¿ San Diego Mayor Dick Murphy, who helped launch the convention and exhibition last Thursday with biotechnology leaders, has declared this week ¿Biotechnology Week¿ in the city.

The meeting continues through Wednesday.

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