Mass General, UC San Diego to use IBM's World Community Grid for microbiome study

A team of researchers from across the U.S. will crowdsource computing power from the general public to conduct a large-scale study observing connections between the human microbiome and autoimmune diseases.

The study, called the Microbiome Immunity Project, aims to map the three million bacterial genes found in the human microbiome, or in and on the human body. The project is a collaboration between Cambridge, Mass.-based Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, Boston-based Massachusetts General Hospital, UC San Diego and New York City-based Simons Foundation's Flatiron Institute.

Since researchers will need massive supercomputing processing power to analyze the entire microbiome, the project will enlist volunteers through IBM's World Community Grid. The World Community Grid enables volunteers from the general public to provide researchers with surplus processing power from their own internet-connected computers via a software program, which conducts virtual experiments on behalf of the researchers.

The citizen science project will first analyze the microbiome in the digestive system. Its long-term goal is to identify how the microbiome's interaction with human biochemistry contributes to autoimmune diseases like Type 1 diabetes, Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis.

One of the Microbiome Immunity Project's three principal investigators, Ramnik Xavier, MD, noted this project marks the largest study of bacteria in the human microbiome to date.

"This type of research on the human microbiome, on this scale, has not been done before," said Dr. Xavier, chief of the gastrointestinal unit and director of the center for the study of inflammatory bowel disease at Mass General and institute member and co-director of the infectious disease and microbiome program at the Broad Institute. "It's only possible with massive computational power."

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