Science Highlights Spring 19

Welcome to the Spring 2019 Edition of Science Highlights.



Meteorologists can get time-critical help in spotting dangerous cloud formations using artificial intelligence (AI), according to scientists at Penn State and AccuWeather Inc. The team trained an AI with the “machine learning” method, running on PSC’s Bridges system, to recognize a typical cloud formation known as comma-shaped clouds in satellite images. Their results detected up to 99 percent of the comma-shaped clouds and 64 percent of ensuing storms in 2011 and 2012 satellite images over the U.S. Their hope is to develop an accurate early warning system so storm warnings can be issued more quickly than possible today.

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Stopping HIV in Its Tracks

A monkey “host restriction” protein works by destabilizing HIV as it enters the cell, according to scientists at the University of Delaware and the University of Pittsburgh (Pitt). This destabilization, revealed with simulations on PSC’s Bridges system, shows why HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, can’t infect monkey cells. Understanding how the monkey protein stops infection, and why the human version of the protein doesn’t, promises a completely new avenue for protecting people against the virus.

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Capture and Convert

A new material may be able to capture carbon dioxide and turn it into a commercially useful substance, according to a team at the University of Pittsburgh. Using PSC’s Bridges system, they simulated two “metal oxide framework” materials that simulated removal of carbon dioxide from exhaust gas. Better, the material also converted it into formic acid, which can be used to make products like methanol fuel. If the material works as well in the lab and factory as it does in the computer, it could fundamentally alter the economics of limiting human CO2 release and avoiding climate change. 

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A Basic Switch

Large changes in protein-chain folding accompany a pH-dependent switch between the two modes of an important life process called “electron transport”, Georgia Tech scientists have suggested. Using simulations on the Bridges system at PSC, the team has explained otherwise mysterious lab results. The finding sheds light on a process central to plants building sugars from sunlight, higher organisms using those sugars for energy and the development of some human diseases. 

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Phospholipids at the Gate

A protein that scrambles the contents of the inner and outer surfaces of the cell membrane has an unexpected gate at its center, discovered by Weill Cornell Medical College scientists using Anton 2 supercomputer simulations at PSC. The slot suspected of allowing membrane components to move between the membrane’s inner and outer surfaces works much like a credit card reader, as scientists had thought from previous work. But thanks to the uniquely long time periods and large molecular complexes that Anton 2 can simulate, the Weill group has discovered an unforeseen additional mechanism that could provide drug targets in cancer, heart disease, stroke and blood disorders. 

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The Fingerprints of Survival

A UCLA-led team has found they can predict whether birds are vulnerable to climate change by comparing their genes to their changing environments. Using PSC’s Bridges system, Rachael Bay and her colleagues working with the Bird Genoscape Project found they could identify genes in the yellow warbler and the willow flycatcher that associate with recent declines in local populations of each bird. The work is a first step in understanding climate sensitivity of many species that the researchers hope will offer new tools to conservation managers. 

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PSC News in Brief

  • PSC Supplies Computation to Large Hadron Collider Group 
  • PSC Receives Best-Ever Six 2018 HPCwire Awards 
  • Microsoft Supports PSC’s GCode Workshops 
  • PSC Receives $289K for Expansion of Genome Biology Research 
  • PSC & University of Pittsburgh (Pitt) Build Infrastructure for Human Tissue Atlas 

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