Genome analysis center wins National Science Foundation funding renewal

US scientists to have better access to computational tools, resources to analyze big data

Nov. 10, 2015

The National Center for Genome Analysis Support (NCGAS) at Indiana University has received $627,854 from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to continue its work helping scientists analyze, understand, and make use of the vast quantities of genomic information now available. In a separate, collaborative award, the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center (PSC) has received $131,987 from NSF as part of the NCGAS renewal.

The three-year grant renewal will allow the center to develop and deliver services that meet a national need for support of genome analyses that includes consulting services, software enhancements, and computation for the national community of researchers. The center currently supports hundreds of scientists working on more than 40 long-term research projects all over the US.

“Since its inception, NCGAS has established itself as a leading center for NSF researchers who need high performance computing facilities and curated bioinformatics software to get their science done,” said Craig Stewart, executive director of the IU Pervasive Technology Institute and associate dean of IU Research Technologies. “The renewed NSF funding allows us to build on past successes as we serve our existing clients and seek to partner with additional researchers to understand their massive genomic data sets.

“This award is one of the first funded under the new ‘sustaining’ category of the NSF’s Advances in Biological Informatics (ABI) and represents a shift in NSF strategy to sustaining important efforts,” Stewart added. “We’re proud to be among the national genome collaborations meriting renewal.”

Said Philip Blood, PSC senior computational scientist and principal investigator of the PSC part of the award, “PSC is bringing its experience in supporting very large memory applications, such as large genome and metagenome assembly, to support NCGAS’ mission serving the national genomics community. We look forward to continuing to make computational tools and resources more accessible to biologists and to lowering the barriers to research requiring bigger and bigger data in genomics.

The NSF established NCGAS in 2011 with a $1.5 million ABI grant. The center’s services are available to NSF-funded researchers, usually at no cost, as a way to address the scientific challenges of understanding a new wealth of gene sequence information brought about by advances in bioinformatics tools. NCGAS is also available to researchers as an Extreme Science and Engineering Discovery Environment (XSEDE) resource. XSEDE is a virtual system that scientists can use to interactively share computing resources, data, and expertise.

“Explosive growth in genome sequencing data has created new possibilities in understanding biological processes, but undertaking genome analysis is a challenge for most biologists,” said Tom Doak, NCGAS manager and principal investigator on the grant renewal. “By partnering with NCGAS, scientists are freed up to concentrate on their science – whether it’s biological functions, population dynamics, or the effects of climate change – while we take care of the data.”

NCGAS is a collaboration led by the IU Pervasive Technology Institute in partnership with the Texas Advanced Computing Center of the University of Texas, Austin; the San Diego Supercomputer Center of University of California, San Diego; and the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center. In April, NCGAS announced new services and partnerships to support and enhance genome science, including new analysis tools and a genome browsing service.