Friday, 18 November 2011

Dinosaurs, DNA and nuclear power

Just a normal month or so in the life of the NGS really but what do all 3 have in common?
They were all research areas investigated using NGS resources.

The research of William Sellers, Phil Manning and Karl Bates on dinosaur locomotion was featured as a “success story” on the EGI website.  They talked about how they used Grid computing to understand better how dinosaurs moved around and what roles they played in their ancient world.  As there are no similar animals around today to compare to dinosaurs such as a T. Rex, the solution is to create a detailed computer simulation of the animal’s skeleton and muscles.

Not only was their research picked up by EGI but it also featured in iSGTW – fantastic publicity for the researchers and for the NGS!

I’ve been busy putting together some user case studies over the last few weeks and I’m pleased to say that there are now a few more up on the website showcasing the large spread of research areas that the NGS facilitates.

First up is Charlie Laughton from the University of Nottingham who has been using the NGS for quite some time now.  He used the NGS to investigate the flexibility and folding properties of DNA as understanding how the tightly packed DNA in human cells can still be read can, in turn, help to understand how cells switch genes on and off.   At present there is no clear understanding of how this works.  Being able to influence this in new ways may ultimately help to find new drugs to treat diseases such as cancer, develop new biofuels, and crops that can resist climate change.

Charlie said “…without the compute power and high-throughput provided by the NGS, we would not have been able to deliver our part of the project in a timely manner. At a more personal level, it led to one of the most highly cited publications I have ever had.”

John Allen from the University of Edinburgh explained how they use NGS resources to power the GridQTL portal which is used worldwide to study gene expression in a wide range of organisms.

The team’s use of the NGS has greatly increased the productivity of their users (currently around 400) in the QTL community. One example of this is a GridQTL user at the University of Missouri Columbia.  They ran a series of studies on carcass, post-natal growth and reproductive traits in commercial Angus cattle and found a speed up of from 20 people-weeks, using their old single server system, to 3 people-weeks to capture and analyse the data with GridQTL. 

Finally we have nuclear power!  Paul Martin from the University of Huddersfield has been using the NGS to investigate the suitability of Thoria asan alternative form of nuclear fuel.  Paul’s research is particularly timely as there is increased interest in the use of thorium dioxide for nuclear power rods not least because of its comparatively high abundance in the earth’s crust and low cost.  It is for this reason that, although the main fuel for nuclear power reactors is currently urania-based, thoria-based fuel is attracting much attention as an alternative high performance nuclear fuel.

All of our case studies can be found on the NGS website and we now have a collection of 26 covering a wide range of research areas.  If you are interested in using the NGS case studies to promote grid resources then please let us know.

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