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Will Computers Ever Bail Out Genomics Data Flood? Better Grab a Bucket

PITTSBURGH, Nov. 12 (GenomeWeb News) - Faced with an endless and growing flood of data, biologists still don't know "whether the computers can bail us out," a leading genomics researcher told an audience of computer scientists gathered for SC2004, the annual muscle-fest of the supercomputing field. (There are no "gigas" at this meeting - only "teras.")

 

In a talk called "Computing Opportunities in the Era of Abundant Biological Data," Gane Ka-Shu Wong, associate director at the Beijing Institute of Genomics and a research scientist at the University of Washington Genome Center, touched upon all of the major compute-intensive problems where biologists need bailing out, from protein folding to embryogenesis, from metabolomics to comparative genomics.

 

About 400 of the 7,000 delegates in attendance turned out early Thursday morning for the meeting's only plenary session on biology. Researchers more accustomed to modeling weather systems, hydrodynamics, and nuclear explosions were warned by Wong that "people in the physical sciences grossly underestimate how difficult biology is" - especially as it moves from "'omics to systems biology."

 

Wong said that the days of the Celera-style $100 million computer facility are over, and that installations costing $500,000 to $2 million would become more common. This was undoubtedly good news to the two dozen or more Linux cluster vendors showing their wares on the exhibition floor.

 

Undaunted by the computational challenges of proteomics, Wong said his group is about to start a "massive protein project in Beijing."

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