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U Missouri Infusion To Evolve Regional Genomic Cloud

The University of Missouri has received an equipment grant from IBM to bolster its computational and storage capabilities for bioinformatics research. The grant will add an additional 64 processors and 24 terabytes of storage to the cluster resources run by the Columbia-based university's Bioinformatics Consortium.

That particular research center is a U Missouri system-wide resource for high-performance computational infrastructure to support programs in the areas of medicine, molecular biology, genetics, structural biology, and molecular evolution. For example, researchers are studying bovine genes in hopes of increasing reproductive efficiency in livestock and looking at ways to grow corn in drought conditions. Other projects are aimed at fighting the spread of infectious diseases such as malaria and H1N1.

The eventual goal of the IBM grant is to develop a cloud computing environment for genomics research collaboration at a regional level. According to IBM, a genomic cloud would make possible large-scale sharing and collaborative scientific discovery. It might also bring human genome sequencing and analysis into a clinical setting, allowing for "personalized medicine." DNA sequencing--the process of determining the order of the chemical building blocks that make up DNA--is a massive computational challenge. Currently, doctors send DNA samples from patients to labs for sequencing and analysis, a process that can require weeks of delay in treatment. With access to the genomic cloud, a hospital's medical staff might be able to sequence and analyze the DNA onsite.

"This collaboration with IBM provides our researchers, and those being trained to become tomorrow's researchers and educators, access to critical high performance computing resources needed to process massive data sets and apply increasingly more sophisticated bioinformatics tools and technologies," said Gordon Springer, associate professor in the Computer Science Department and scientific director of the Bioinformatics Consortium. "The availability of these resources will enable discoveries that will benefit mankind and the environment."

The multi-phased project starts with the donation by IBM of an iDataPlex rack system, a category of low-energy server introduced in 2008. This high performance computing system and related software will integrate with the university's existing computing infrastructure.

In the second phase, the university and IBM will work together to create a prototype cloud computing environment for genomic research. In a final phase, the hope is to make the genomics cloud operational and to expand it to a regional domain, to allow sharing of bioinformatics resources regionally.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a writer who covers technology and business for a number of publications. Contact her at dian@dischaffhauser.com.

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