Energy joins Celera on supercomputing project

Energy joins Celera on supercomputing project

BY PATRICIA DAUKANTAS | GCN STAFF

Energy Department and private-sector researchers who raced each other to map the human genome are now pooling their expertise to develop superfast computers and algorithms for biological research.

Under a four-year cooperative R&D agreement, Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, N.M., and Celera Genomics Corp. of Rockville, Md., will collaborate on massively parallel arrays that could achieve 100 trillion floating-point operations per second. Officials said the outside limit might eventually be 1,000 TFLOPS, or 1 petaFLOPS.

Subcontractor Compaq Computer Corp. will work with Sandia and Celera researchers to build the arrays from Compaq's Alpha processors.

Celera uses Compaq computers in its gene-sequencing work. Through the five-year-old Accelerated Strategic Computing Initiative, Compaq also has a contract with Energy's Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico to build a 30-TFLOPS supercomputer to simulate the aging of nuclear weapons. Sandia's ASCI Red supercomputer was the first system to achieve 1 TFLOPS.

Its three-year reign as the world's fastest computer ended last year when Energy's Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California powered up its IBM ASCI White system to a peak of 12.3 TFLOPS.

The biological computing project will have enormous synergy with ongoing ASCI work, Sandia director Paul C. Robinson said.

Miles to go

Speakers at the signing ceremony early this year credited Celera president J. Craig Venter for bringing high-performance computers into genetic research. But Venter noted that the almost 2-TFLOPS performance of Celera's systems pales in comparison with the capacity needed to study the structure and behavior of cell proteins'the next step in applying genetic knowledge to develop new medicines.

'With new hardware and algorithms, we think we're going to push the frontier quite a bit forward,' Robinson said.

Energy is investing about $10 million in the project. Venter said the agreement is in the multimillion-dollar range, and the partnership will jointly own the intellectual property.

Energy began the human genome project 10 years ago. Celera jumped into the gene-sequencing race several years later. The subsequent rivalry cooled last June when Venter and National Human Genome Research Institute director Francis Collins jointly announced that their researchers had deciphered the human genetic code.

The public and private groups realized they were 'each running down separate paths toward the same goal' and formed the partnership, because 'the project is much bigger than either of us,' Robinson said.

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