RENCI Bioportal enhanced with first workflow

CHAPEL HILL, NC, September 20, 2006 – The North Carolina/TeraGrid Bioportal, the web-based biology environment developed at the Renaissance Computing Institute (RENCI), now offers scientists a new capability to help them work more efficiently and effectively.

Called a workflow, this technology automates many redundant processes used in analyzing biological problems, such as launching a group of applications and moving data among applications to achieve a scientific goal. Workflows aim to take the “busy work” out of science. Instead of reentering data in countless different formats to accomplish different steps in problem solving, the scientist simply loads the data into the front end of the workflow and lets the underlying infrastructure handle the busy work.

The first workflow offered through the Bioportal is called Gene2Life, developed through collaboration with the Center for Bioinformatics at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The Gene2Life workflow uses as input either a DNA or a protein sequence and compares that sequence to current databases of known sequences to determine its closest relatives. The workflow generates a “tree,” which depicts the relationships among the user input sequence and homologous sequences retrieved from the sequence databases. Gene2Life could be a useful first step for researchers examining either the function or the evolutionary origin of a sequence of interest.

“Workflows are all about letting the scientist concentrate on science and delegating the computational work to an underlying infrastructure,” said RENCI Director Dan Reed. “In talking to biologists, we’ve found that many of them are frustrated by the time they spend at repetitive tasks like reformatting data for every step in an analysis. Using the Bioportal and the workflows we are integrating into it, we aim to give them more time to concentrate on what they do best.”

The Gene2Life workflow, which is an automated system designed for a particular type of analysis, is the first of several targeted workflows in development. Over the next six months, RENCI researchers will develop a Bioportal infrastructure that will allow users to create and deploy their own customized workflows.