Beagle supercomputer maps genome in 50 hours

21 Feb 2014

The Beagle supercomputer, one of the most powerful computers in the world, has broken a new record in mapping the entire human genome in just fewer than 50 hours.

While this initially may sound like an awfully long time for a supercomputer to make a calculation, the human genome is one of the most complex pieces of code imaginable, making up more than 3.2bn base pairs of code which is so detailed it takes researchers months to decipher.

This breakthrough, however, is a major step in reducing the time necessary even further and a report calculated that it would take a relatively high-end computer with a 2.1GHz processor 47 years of non-stop calculating to reach the same results.

The Beagle, named after Charles Darwin’s ship that took part in the voyage that led to his Origin of Species masterpiece, has a processing speed of 150 teraflops and a hard drive of 600 terabytes.

Making genome mapping cost effective

Ultimately, the goal of scientists mapping the human genome is to bring its calculation below a cost of US$1,000 per process in order for it to become economically viable.

Unfortunately, this record-breaking speed has not brought the cost down to these levels but the study’s lead author, Elizabeth McNally, MD, PhD, sees great potential with the project: “Improving analysis through both speed and accuracy reduces the price per genome.

“With this approach, the price for analysing an entire genome is less than the cost of looking at just a fraction of genome. New technology promises to bring the costs of sequencing down to around US$1,000 per genome. Our goal is to get the cost of analysis down into that range.”

Despite the long-term objectives of the project, there are more immediate gains to be had from this experiment.

The finding has immediate medical applications. McNally’s Cardiovascular Genetics clinic will be able to use this process as a means of analysing and interpreting a patient’s genes, as well as their family members’ genes, which could identify conditions, such as cardiomyopathy.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic