Behind the Scenes Discovery

The 3 billion base pairs of the human genome were just the beginning.

Sonia Leach, PhD, director of bioinformatics, stands in front of a graph that highlights important biological relationships discovered with the help of a new supercomputer at National Jewish Health.In the past decade, biology has been flooded with a deluge of data, from the complete genomes of individuals to the proteome, the metabolome and the microbiome.

Teasing answers out of that data flood — sorting through billions of bits of information to find which genes contribute to disease, or to discover how a single protein might impact an illness — takes time, a lot of time. Data analysis is the biggest bottleneck in biological research today.

In the past year, National Jewish Health installed a supercomputer to help remove that bottleneck. A genetic analysis known as GWAS could take 1.3 years on a typical desktop, but takes only 2.2 days on the new supercomputer. Sonia Leach, PhD, director of bioinformatics at the Center for Genes, Environment and Health, designs computational algorithms that can turn bits and bytes into biological knowledge.

“Recent investments in sequencing and computational power, as well as the personnel to integrate the two, are beginning to pay off,” said Dr. Leach. “It allows researchers to combine state-of-the-art capabilities with unique resources at National Jewish Health, such as the extraordinary patient population, to accelerate the pace of discovery.”