by Hamish Barwick

Distributed computing project enables UNSW’s DNA research

Oct 22, 20142 mins
Big DataEducation Industry

The University of New South Wales (UNSW) is using donated computing power to make 20 quadrillion comparisons of 200 million DNA proteins.

The project, Uncovering Genome Mysteries, will compare proteins encoded by genes from a variety of life forms including Australian seaweed and Amazon River tropical plants. The research could help produce compounds for new medicines or more resilient crops.

In addition, UNSW and Oswaldo Cruz Institute of Brazil researchers plan to produce a database of protein sequence comparison information that all scientists can refer to.

Project leaders hope this could lead to the identification of new gene functions, discoveries of how organisms interact with each other and the environment, and a better understanding of how microorganisms change under environmental stresses, such as climate change.

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  • The project is using IBM’s World Community Grid supercomputer. According to the vendor, making 20 quadrillion comparisons of 200 million DNA proteins would take about 40,000 years on a PC. However, using World Community Grid will reduce the task to months.

    “This is possible because the grid taps into the goodwill and computer power of thousands of volunteers spanning the globe,” said an IBM spokesperson.

    “The volunteers have all downloaded an app that borrows the unused power of the computing devices when it is not otherwise needed by their users, such as when they take a brief or extended break from using their computers. The scalability of this virtual supercomputer gives scientists a virtually limitless capacity to work with large amounts of data at no cost to them,” the spokesperson added.

    The crowdsourced supercomputer uses software developed in 2002 by Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing (BOINC) at the University of California, Berkeley.

    Approximately 3 million computers and mobile devices used by over 670,000 people and 460 institutions from 80 countries have contributed virtual supercomputing power for projects such as mapping cancer markers and clean energy on World Community Grid.

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