IBM and UH team
on drug research

A Maui computing center gets equipment
that aids calculations in life science studies


Tuesday, Aug. 12, 2003

>> Tak Sugimura is manager of business development at the Maui High Performance Computing Center. He was identified incorrectly as the director in an article on Page A9 Wednesday.

The Honolulu Star-Bulletin strives to make its news report fair and accurate. If you have a question or comment about news coverage, call Editor Frank Bridgewater at 529-4791 or email him at

IBM and the University of Hawaii's Maui High Performance Computing Center have formed a research partnership to develop information that could lead to better drugs and treatments for diseases.

They will work with a powerful computing system awarded to the Maui center today through IBM's Shared University Research Program.

Tak Sugimura, director of the Maui center, said the new technology will be dedicated for biological research by UH and IBM researchers with mutual interests in life sciences.

He said the partnership developed out of collaboration between UH microbiologist Maqsudul Alam and Isidore Rigoutsos, with IBM's Bioinformatics and Pattern Discovery Group.

Alam's team recently sequenced the genome of a unique deep sea organism collected from a hydrothermal vent at the undersea Loihi volcano south of the Big Island.

Knowing the organism's genetic code has enormous implications for development of new proteins, enzymes and antibiotics, Alam said in announcing the discovery in May.

For example, ultraviolet-absorbing compounds may be developed as byproducts of the bacteria, which exist in extreme conditions at Loihi, genome project leader Shaobin Hou said yesterday.

"We want to develop something to find out which kind of protein is doing that kind of job, why the bacteria doesn't die."

He said there is potential to develop proteins from the microorganisms for sunscreen, cosmetics, drugs and "lots of other applications. Some of them we don't know."

A significant amount of computing power is needed for the projects because of data-intensive calculations, the scientists said.

The research project will be using the advanced IBM eServer p690 system. In a press release, IBM said, "It would take one person with a calculator 1.3 million years to tabulate the number of calculations that this supercomputer can handle in a single second."

Ajay Royyuru, senior manager of IBM's Computational Biology Center, was to make a formal presentation today to UH and MHPCC officials on the Manoa campus.

Sugimura said the equipment is due for delivery on Maui from the mainland by the end of 2004 or early 2005. Sugimura said the gift includes 16 state-of-the-art processors, increasing capability at the center to 320 from 304 processors.

"What we're trying to do at the MHPCC is to develop the infrastructure so resources will be available to all researchers, not only UH, and to the development community in the state," Sugimura said.

Margaret Ashida, director of IBM university relations, said the Shared University Research Program donates computer systems and products to universities and research institutes to enable research that benefits university and IBM interests.

"Only about 50 awards are made annually around the world," she said by telephone from New York. "It's a very selective program."

UH and MHPCC officials also will meet with IBM officials tomorrow to begin discussions about possible participation in a much broader IBM program to support life sciences, Sugimura said.

IBM recently established the Life Sciences Institutes, recognizing academic research institutions with a comprehensive package of benefits over many years.


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