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Blue Gene to push boundaries of science.

Apounds 62.5 million super computer, far faster than any existing machine, is being built to help scientists learn about proteins and their role in human disease.

The ambitious plan by International Business Machines hope the RS/6000 computer, named Blue Gene, will be capable of more than one quadrillion operations per second - 1,000 times more powerful than the Deep Blue machine that beat world chess champion Garry Kasparov in 1997.

IBM said the new super computer system, which will take up to five years to construct, will initially be used to model how proteins fold, giving scientists and doctors better insight into diseases and ways to combat them.

Projected to be 500 times more powerful than any current computer, Blue Gene would help pharmaceutical companies design prescription drugs customised to the needs of individual people. It would also allow doctors to respond rapidly to changes in bacteria that lead to drug-resistant viruses.

IBM's breakthrough project would build on the progress created by the Human Genome Project, a public and private industry initiative that has set a goal of deciphering the entire human genetic code by 2005.

"Breakthroughs in computers and information technology are now creating new frontiers in biology," said Mr Paul Horn, senior vice president of IBM's research division.

He said the IBM project would one day allow patients to walk into a doctor's office and have a computer analyse tissue samples, identify any ailment and then instantly prescribe a treatment suited to specific illnesses and the individual's genetic make-up.

IBM's Blue Gene will consist of more than one million processors, each capable of a billion operations per second. That would make it two million times more powerful than today's personal computers.

Proteins, which control all cellular function in the human body, fold into highly complex, three-dimensional shapes that determine their function. A change in the shape of a protein can dramatically change its function, and even a slight change in folding can turn a desirable protein into a disease.

Blue Gene is the latest grand challenge undertaken by IBM to push the limits of computing power to solve fundamental research problems viewed by the scientific community as having the potential to change the world - or at least the way we think about the world.

In a similar daunting research challenge a decade ago, researchers created a computer capable of simulating the grand unified theory of quantum electrodynamics, what physicists see as the standard theory of the forces of nature.

Mr Horn said the radical new design will represent the biggest change in computer architecture since the development of faster and simpler Reduced Instruction Set Computing (RISC) replaced Complex Instruction Set Computing (CISC) in the 1980s.

The new design has been nicknamed SMASH, which stands for "Simple, Many and Self-Healing," and which will create a self-stabilising computer that can automatically overcome the failure of individual components.

The SMASH architecture also differs from existing computers in that it further simplifies the number of instructions carried out by each computer chip, allowing them to work faster.

Blue Gene's one million processors will be housed in a massive room-sized machine taking up nearly 2000 square feet of floor space.

The computer maker said about 50 scientists from its research group's Deep Computing Institute and Computational Biology Group will work on Blue Gene and the protein folding grand challenge. IBM also plans to involve leading genetic scientists from academia and industry.
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Author:Deshmukh, Anita
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Jan 11, 2000
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