Sleeping Computers Unravel Genetic Diseases

Article ID: 520969

Released: 1-Jun-2006 4:00 PM EDT

Source Newsroom: American Technion Society

Newswise — The National Institutes of Health, Harvard Medical School and scientists in France, Canada, Spain, India and Israel have already utilized a system that uses the spare time of thousands of linked computers to unravel genetic diseases. Developed by researchers at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, the system provides results tens of times faster than previous gene-mapping programs. The findings are reported in the June 2006 American Journal of Human Genetics.

Known as Superlink-Online, the system reduces the time-consuming process of identifying the exact location of a disease gene in affected families' genomes " a crucial step in developing effective disease treatments.

"Superlink-Online makes feasible some computations that were not previously possible," says Dr. Alejandro Schäffer, staff scientist at the National Institutes of Health National Center for Biotechnology Information.

Development started five years ago by Technion Computer Science Professor Dan Geiger and Dr. Ma'ayan Fishelson (at that time Geiger's doctoral student). Now, with the help of the Condor middleware system, Superlink-Online is running in parallel on 200 computers at the Technion and 3,000 at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The system can be accessed freely as a password-protected service through the Internet, and final results are combined and output as if they were run on a single computer.

"Over the last half year, dozens of geneticists around the world have used Superlink-Online, and thousands of runs " totaling 70 computer years " have been recorded," says Professor Assaf Schuster, head of the Technion's Distributed Systems Laboratory, which developed Superlink-Online's computational infrastructure.

According to Technion Ph.D. student Mark Silberstein, the system's current developer, Superlink-Online's already formidable power (it recently completed in 7 hours computations that would have taken a full year on a single computer) will be increased dramatically in the near future when it is connected to thousands of additional computers using the EGEE computer network, a widespread European network.

The Technion-Israel Institute of Technology is Israel's leading science and technology university. Home to the country's winners of the Nobel Prize in science, it commands a worldwide reputation for its pioneering work in nanotechnology, computer science, biotechnology, water-resource management, materials engineering, aerospace and medicine. The majority of the founders and managers of Israel's high-tech companies are alumni. Based in New York City, the American Technion Society is the leading American organization supporting higher education in Israel, with 17 offices around the country.


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