IBM to facilitate mapping of human bacterial genes

Researchers are using IBM's World Community Grid, which provides huge amounts of free, crowd-sourced computing power, to learn how bacteria may contribute to autoimmune diseases.

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IBM on Wednesday announced that researchers are using its World Community Grid, which provides huge amounts of free, crowd-sourced computing power, to map the millions of bacterial genes found in the human microbiome.

Called the Microbiome Immunity Project, the new initiative aims to learn more about how bacteria contribute to increasingly common autoimmune diseases like Type 1 Diabetes, Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis. The project is led by researchers from the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, Massachusetts General Hospital, University of California San Diego and the Simons Foundation's Flatiron Institute.

The World Community Grid, designed for large-scale environmental and health-related research projects, is powered by computers and Android devices belonging to more than 730,000 worldwide volunteers. The volunteers download an app, and when their devices aren't in full use, it uses them to automatically perform virtual experiments.

The data from these virtual experiments will be analyzed by the Microbiome Immunity Project research team and made publicly available. While the project aims to map all of the bacterial genes found in the human microbiome, it's starting with the digestive system.

"By harnessing the efforts of volunteers, we can do something that exceeds the scale of what we have access to by a factor of thousands," said Dr. Rob Knight of UC San Diego in a statement. "For the first time, we're bringing a comprehensive structural biology picture to the whole microbiome, rather than solving structures one at a time in a piecemeal fashion."

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