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Supercomputer aids gene research

A new supercomputer is enabling researchers to rapidly identify new genes and proteins that can be used for future sustainable biotechnology industrial processes.

The Altix UV 1000 – or 'Anakyklosis' – is being used by researchers at the Technical University of Denmark. The supercomputer has a huge 'shared memory' which has enabled the researchers to handle data quickly, efficiently and expand on basic biological questions.

"The need for larger and faster computers has become very urgent due to the development of the metagenomics research area," said senior researcher, Nikolaj Blom from the new Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Biosustainability at DTU, which has funded the computer. "This deals with mapping the entire genome content of bacterial communities, such as those found in the deep oceans, in wastewater or in our own gut. The resulting amount of data is several thousand times larger than the entire human genome."

Metagenomics systems biology will be one of the centre's six main research areas, and the supercomputer will at the heart of the search for new enzymes for the biotech industry and the construction of biological cell factories. The goal of the centre's research is to produce tomorrow's chemicals in living cells from inexpensive and sustainable raw materials and thereby reduce world dependence on oil.

"It's mainly the memory of our computers, which currently limits how much data we can process at a time, and thus how quickly we make progress with our analysis," added Thomas Sicheritz-Pontén, who will direct the research in metagenomics at the Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Biosustainability. "Anakyklosis can hold the equivalent of 2500 human genomes in its working memory at once, so it opens up new opportunities for systems biology research."

Author
Chris Shaw

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