Linux helps British scientists decode human DNA

The DNA puzzle is slowly coming together and Linux is making a difference
Written by Will Knight, Contributor

The Linux operating system has helped scientists in Cambridge to decode the 34 million chemical 'letters' that constitute a human chomosome.

Scientists at the Sanger Centre in Cambridge are expected to announce any day that chromosome 22, an complete section of human DNA, has been successfully mapped.

Over three hundred Alpha-based Compaq TRU64 Unix systems as well as 60 Intel-powered Linux machines contributed to the huge number-crunching effort required to interpret the chemical make-up of a chromosome. The centre combined all the Linux machines into one giant 'virtual computer' in order to maximise their computational power.

The head of information technology at the Sanger Centre, Phil Butcher, praises the Load Sharing Facility (LSF) technology from Platform Computing, that made this possible.

"The raw computing power required to complete the project was unprecedented. We needed a solution to maximise the powerful processing power of the Compaq Alpha systems."

"Given the need to run jobs that could take from a few minutes to many days to complete we needed a cluster to run continually without crashing or interrupting our workload. LSF provided us with this."

The Sanger Centre, funded by the Wellcome Trust and the British Medical Research Council, has been competing with US company Celera in the race to map human DNA.

Decoding human DNA has been heralded as one of the most important scientific achievements ever. It is hoped that it will enable medical experts to combat many genetically inherited diseases, although some have also raised concern over the ethical implications of the discovery.

Take me to the Linux Lounge

What do you think? Tell the Mailroom. And read what others have said.

Editorial standards