iPlant Collaborative Bridges the Atlantic with Big Data

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imgresA collaboration called iPlant UK is bridging science across Atlantic Ocean using high-performance cyber-infrastructure. Funded by the NSF, the iPlant Collaborative is a virtual organization that provides computational capacity for big data for all life science research.

Scientists from all over the world use iPlant to share data and computational methods,” said Matt Vaughn, Co-Principal Investigator of the iPlant Collaborative and site lead at TACC. “iPlant UK is a natural extension of our platform to support plant scientists in the U.K.”

One current bottleneck in life science research is a lack of capacity to share and analyze enormous data files in an efficient, user-friendly way. The life sciences generate huge volumes of data containing untold discoveries, which could help tackle global challenges in medicine, biofuels, biodiversity and agriculture, and problems like drought tolerance, plant breeding and sustainable farming – if they could be analyzed.

Harnessing the power of some of the world’s fastest supercomputers, iPlant provides huge cloud-based storage space and a virtual lab bench, which put global life science data and online tools in one place. Users can share datasets and tools to analyze data with as many or as few people as they wish. Tools to analyze data developed by iPlant staff, or built by others, can be shared with the wider community in a similar manner to smartphone ‘apps.’

In less than 10 years the iPlant Collaborative has grown to serve the data storage and analysis needs of over 18,500 users. The recently-awarded BBSRC funding will bring the advanced computing capability provided by iPlant closer to scientists in the U.K. by building an iPlant UK node at TGAC. TGAC provides substantial national capability in computing infrastructure and analysis to the U.K. Thus, it is perfectly situated to provide the foundations for the iPlant UK node.

iPlant has always operated with the motivation to build the best cyber-infrastructure possible for as many users as we could feasibly support,” said Vaughn. “We’ve developed our infrastructure to be flexible and extensible, and it’s exciting to see the BBSRC investing in the iPlant model.”

Software tools developed for specific plant science sequencing, systems biology and image analysis projects at the Universities of Warwick, Liverpool and Nottingham, will be adapted by a dedicated team of programmers so that they can be integrated into iPlant UK. These will then be made freely and openly available for the wider plant science community to use.

Jim Beynon of the University of Warwick will lead the establishment of iPlant UK along with scientists at TGAC, the University of Liverpool, the University of Nottingham, theUniversity of Arizona and TACC.

A U.K. iPlant node is expected to help spread expertise and best practice between the U.K. and U.S., allow U.K. researchers to provide input for the future direction of cyber-infrastructure for life sciences, and provide an exemplar project to others wishing to establish future international iPlant nodes.

By establishing iPlant UK and promoting access to a resource that allows users to readily store and analyze their data, the project could support a wide range of research, including genome-side association projects exploiting natural variation in crops, predicting biological networks and pathways, and the high-throughput imaging and image analysis services that take researchers one step closer to fully understanding which genes are linked to specific traits in plants.

iPlant UK users will now have their own dedicated resources for computing, storage, application development, and training, while being able to use and build upon the foundation developed by the iPlant team in the U.S.,” Vaughn said. “We look forward to working with our collaborators across the Atlantic to help empower U.K. plant scientists to work with large, complex biological data.”

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