A genomic sequencing process that once took 30 hours or more can now be completed in a few minutes.
NVIDIA announced this week it will provide a free 90-day license to its Parabricks Genome Analysis Toolkit to enable researchers to leverage graphic processor units (GPUs) in their race to find a cure for the COVID-19 coronavirus.
The goal is to not just better understand how the coronavirus is constructed to help develop a potential cure, but also discover why it is more lethal to some individuals than others, says Kimberly Powell, vice president and general manager for healthcare at NVIDIA.
The challenge is processing the massive amount of data required to sequence genome data. Many cloud service providers have been making compute capacity available to well over 50,000 researchers. NVIDIA is now moving to make a potentially critical toolkit for analyzing that data available for free as well.
Sequencing genome data clearly plays a key role in achieving that latter goal sooner than later because GPUs can accelerate by as much as 50 times the analysis of sequence data using algorithms that were created specifically to apply artificial intelligence (AI) to genome research, says Powell. A sequencing process that once took 30 hours or more can now be completed in a few minutes, says Powell.
However, the sequencing data now needed urgently as a matter of public safety resides in everything from documents to imaging applications. The Parabricks Genome Analysis Toolkit makes it easier, among other things, to aggregate and analyze all that data, says Powell.
“There is no way you could make sense of all that data without AI,” says Powell.
That research will also eventually play a critical role in helping to determine the original source of the virus. In fact, Powell says it’s already been established the COVID-19 virus was created outside of a lab and that it existed as far back as October/November of 2019.
COVID-19 researchers are naturally pursuing multiple lines of investigation. Rather than access to compute resources becoming an inhibitor in conducting that research, IT vendors are collectively moving to make sure researchers have as much compute and storage resources available as required.
It will be interesting to see how much of the current spirit of cooperation will endure once the current crisis has passed. It’s probable that not only will the COVID-19 coronavirus return; it’s also worth noting COVID-19 is only one in a series of coronavirus instances that are becoming more lethal with each new iteration. One of the potential benefits of all the resources being poured into COVID19 research is that pipelines, patterns, and processes are being created that could be applied to other research projects, notes Powell.
There is, of course, no guarantee a cure will be found. The common cold is a form of a coronavirus that has thwarted research efforts since the proverbial dawn of time. However, there may be a greater appreciation of AI may manifest itself should researcher find a cure. After all, it’s not likely any of that research could have been carried out in a timely manner with relying on AI to quite possibly save humanity than many are worried AI will replace.