By Randall Osborne

SEATTLE ¿ The Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) wrapped up its meeting and exhibition here, having tallied about 5,500 registrants, 20 percent more than last year¿s event in New York.

¿We didn¿t think we¿d break the New York level for a couple of years, but this one really went through the roof,¿ said Carl Feldbaum, president of BIO. ¿When we had 4,400 pre-registered, we knew something was happening.¿

Of the first 1,500 registrants, 36 percent were from foreign nations ¿ by far the highest percentage ever, Feldbaum said.

Attendees from other nations tend to register rather than walk in, he said, so the 36 percent figure most likely will not hold for all attendees.

¿The total will be less than 36 percent, but probably over 25 percent,¿ Feldbaum said. More than 400 Germans attended, which is four times last year¿s number, he added. The BIO meeting has always been called ¿international,¿ but the tag originated ¿because we had a few Canadians,¿ Feldbaum said.

¿The tough business climate was a factor [in the high registration],¿ he said. ¿If things are going well, more people can afford to come. If things are not going well in the industry, people feel they can¿t afford to miss it.¿

Many, in fact, used the opportunity to connect with new revenue sources, Feldbaum said.

¿There was a great deal of networking that went on ¿ [the Washington State Convention Center] is a terrific facility, the physical layout and architecture,¿ he said. The multi-level center offers many off-to-the-side, private areas with tables.

The rainy weather also ¿worked to our great advantage the first couple days. No one wanted to step outside,¿ Feldbaum said.

Although no single theme emerged, diversity itself may have been the main point, he said.

¿It¿s a popular meeting, but it¿s not a specific meeting; it¿s got all these tracks to it,¿ Feldbaum said, noting that the industry has ¿proliferated¿ into areas as widely ranged as forestry and outer space.

¿Biotech will be an integral part of so many industries, I¿m not sure we¿ll be able to separate it,¿ Feldbaum said.

A crowd of protesters gathered at the convention center to speak out against genetically modified organisms used in food production, and called for labeling of products containing them. BIO opposes such labeling.

¿I thought [the protest] was sweet,¿ Feldbaum said. ¿They were nice kids, and it was good for our people to see it. They were beating drums. A lot of the folks have never been subject to any kind of demonstration, and it¿s good for [industry] people to get used to that. We were prepared for much more.¿ n