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IBM, Broad Institute to Map Human Microbiome on World Community Grid

CHICAGO (GenomeWeb) – IBM is teaming up with the Broad Institute and several academic medical centers to map the entire human microbiome, with the help of volunteers from the general public. The goal of the newly announced Microbiome Immunity Project is to discover links between autoimmune diseases and bacteria in and on the body.

Researchers from IBM, the Broad, Massachusetts General Hospital, the University of California San Diego School of Medicine, and the Simons Foundation's Flatiron Institute in New York will tap Big Blue's World Community Grid to run millions of virtual experiments on the human microbiome. The grid is a crowdsourced collection of computers volunteered by "citizen scientists," IBM noted.

The Microbiome Immunity Project will start by analyzing the gut microbiome in an effort to predict the physical structure of proteins in microbes. By determining protein structure, researchers expect to learn more about how the microbiome might interact with human biochemistry and lead to autoimmune diseases such as type 1 diabetes, Crohn’s disease, and ulcerative colitis.

"This type of research on the human microbiome, on this scale, has not been done before," Ramnik Xavier, co-director of the Infectious Disease and Microbiome Program at the Broad and chief of the gastrointestinal unit at Mass General, said in a statement. "It's only possible with massive computational power."

Rob Knight, director of the Center for Microbiome Innovation at UCSD, said that World Community Grid is facilitating a new kind of research. "For the first time, we're bringing a comprehensive structural biology picture to the whole microbiome, rather than solving structures one at a time in a piecemeal fashion," he added.