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Illinois initiative creates futuristic facility

Through the CompGen initiative, the University's Institute for Genomic Biology and the Coordinated Science Laboratory in the College of Engineering are bringing together top faculty in genomic and computational sciences to create a dynamic team that will develop new technology for genomic breakthroughs.

One human genome is made up of about 3 billion nucleotidesenough to fill 130 encyclopedia-sized books that could take nearly 95 years to read, according to the University of Leicester. Four types of nucleotides, represented by A's, T's, C's and G's, create a manual that instructs the cells how to make a human being.

To make sense of this unique manual, geneticists compare numerous sequenced genomes. It's a process akin to trying to find typos or compare words, sentences, paragraphs, and chapters among thousands of books. The new CompGen facility will help researchers analyze trillions of nucleotides to better understand everyone's genetic manual.

"This system will revolutionize genomic research by allowing scientists to reach deeper understandings of highly complex big data sets," said Institute for Genomic Biology director Gene E. Robinson, who initiated the CompGen Initiative with Ravishankar Iyer, Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering.

Illinois researchers believe this facility, with its state-of-the-art hardware and software coupled with innovative algorithms, will make analyzing DNA more accurate and efficient even as technology advances and researchers are able to sequence larger and larger amounts of data.

The CompGen initiative will also promote dialogue between biologists and computer scientists and engineers as they work to develop this new facility. In the past, biologists have struggled to explain their problems in a language that makes sense to computer specialists, while computer specialists have struggled to find solutions that a biologist can understand.

Eventually, the team hopes to incorporate a visualization component to the project that will help researchers visualize genetic data in real time. Giant screens will display real time analytics in the foreground while CompGen's hardware, software, and algorithms work in the background.

Already, CompGen has received a $2.6 million grant over 4 years from the National Science Foundation to develop major research instrumentation for this initiative.

To maximize on CompGen's efforts, Illinois researchers are partnering with more than 15 companies and institutions, including IBM, Abbott Laboratories, Mayo Clinic, Baylor College of Medicine, Microsoft, and the Tata Institute of India, which recently co-hosted a "Computing for Genomics" workshop with Illinois in Bangalore.


Contact: Nicholas Vasi
Institute for Genomic Biology, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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