Scientific Research and High-End Computing Go Hand in Hand
March 6, 2009 -- Within the next few decades, biologists may figure out how the millions of species on Earth are related to one another. But in order for people to actually see the relationships mapped out, biologists need help from computational scientists and specialists in visualization to draw the immense evolutionary tree full of complex relationships.
Trying to catalog the relationship of all living things has become more difficult since Darwin first sketched an evolutionary tree in 1837. As our knowledge of DNA and genes make interrelationships more complex, scientists have realized the need to build better models and develop the capability to compare massive quantities of data. This is where high-end capability computing (HECC) can help.
A project funded by the National Science Foundation known as “Assembling the Tree of Life” is using advanced computing to help "reconstruct the evolutionary origins of all living things.” Building and analyzing data for this tree has required an enormous database, innovative algorithms, and unique visual programming and data-retrieval methods to view results. Without advances in computing, this project would have been too great to be done by hand and impossible to complete in a single lifetime.
The 2008 National Research Council report The Potential Impact of High-End Capability Computing on Four Illustrative Fields of Science and Engineering addresses the benefit of applying HECC to such ambitious science and engineering projects and illustrates the value of investing in HECC to address some of the major challenges in four fields, including evolutionary biology. In this field alone, the report notes, the eventual impacts of HECC will be clear and enormous, for exploring relationships and models, resolving relationships among species, individuals, or genes, and analyzing the huge amount of available genomic data. These opportunities cannot be met without new computational capabilities, making HECC crucial to its future.Other Resources: