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Project Blue Gene

Did you ever hear the expression, “I’ve got more brains in my little finger than you have in your whole body?”

Of course, it’s not true (unless you’re talking to someone who is REALLY dumb). But did you know that your little finger (and most other parts of your body) can do things that the world’s largest computer can’t?

In 1999, IBM undertook an initiative called Project Blue Gene. It cost over $100 million and the price tag is still growing. It was designed to imitate the process whereby a human body cell assembles amino acids into proteins in the exact sequence as directed by the body’s individual DNA and then bundles the protein into a coil. If successful, the program would help scientists understand how proteins develop and possibly lead to discovering the cures to many human diseases. A very noble cause indeed.

Each computer is the size of a refrigerator. Each contains a minimum of 1,064 individual computer nodes and, when completed, will be capable of performing a PETAFLOP (which is a whole lot different than performing in a Broadway flop). A petaflop is one quadrillion calculations per second (that’s a one followed by 15 zeroes) and is a whole lot faster than your old reliable Dell Pentium.

The first prototype was finally put into service in 2004. They began testing with one of the simpler proteins of the body containing only 300 amino acids. Normally, body cells will assemble about 600 amino acids into each protein component.

Why only half the average size?

As you can imagine, the more variables, the greater the permutations and the longer it would take to process.

When all was said and done, the simulation was accomplished. Problem is – it took 24 hours a day for 365 days (and that’s almost at petaflop speeds!).

By means of comparison, the cells of your little finger (and most everywhere else) do that in less than one minute. About 500,000 times faster than the world’s largest, fastest, smartest, costliest, man-made computer.

Seems like your IBM (In Born Miracles) can beat that other IBM hands down.

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Comments icon May 9, 2011


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