Sydney scientists are crowd sourcing computer processing time using volunteers from around the world to get enough power to unlock the secrets of millions of marine microbes in Botany Bay and the Amazon River in Brazil.
The team at the University of NSW are using an international group of volunteers sharing their spare computer capacity to create a research supercomputer.
The project has the aim of making 20 quadrillion, or 20,000 million million, comparisons of genes from a variety of tiny life-forms invisible to the naked eye.
“Microorganisms rule the planet,” says Torsten Thomas, an Associate Professor at UNSW’s School of Biotechnology and Biomolecular Sciences and Centre for Marine Bio-Innovation.
“Without bacteria and other microbes, life on Earth would very rapidly cease.
“But we know very little about them. Scientists have studied less than 1% of microbial diversity around the globe. Valuable discoveries await us if we can learn about the remaining 99%.”
The Uncovering Genome Mysteries project is hosted on IBM’s World Community Grid. In the past decade more than 670,000 people have volunteered spare computer capacity, creating a virtual supercomputer which carries out scientific research around the clock.
Anyone with a computer, smartphone or tablet can join and give computational power to carry out the Sydney microbe research.
With enough volunteers the project could be completed within months. But it would take 40,000 years for a single PC to make 20 quadrillion computations.
Microbes are vital to sustaining life on Earth, producing half of the oxygen we breathe, soaking up carbon dioxide and recycling nutrients.
You can donate idle computer time here.