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Supercomputer aids mental disorder research

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A team of researchers from SDSC, the United States and the Institute Pasteur in France have reported in the journal Genes, Brain and Behavior that they used a supercomputer named Gordon to devise a novel way to describe a time-dependent gene-expression process in the brain that can be used to guide the development of treatments for mental disorders such as autism-spectrum disorders and schizophrenia.

The researchers identified the hierarchical tree of coherent gene groups and transcription-factor networks that determine the patterns of genes expressed during brain development. They found that some ‘master transcription factors’ at the top level of the hierarchy regulated the expression of a significant number of gene groups. The scientists' findings can be used for selection of transcription factors that could be targeted in the treatment of specific mental disorders.

‘We live in the unique time when huge amounts of data related to genes, DNA, RNA, proteins and other biological objects have been extracted and stored,’ said lead author Igor Tsigelny, a research scientist with SDSC as well as with UC San Diego's Moores Cancer Center and its Department of Neurosciences.

‘I can compare this time to a situation when the iron ore would be extracted from the soil and stored as piles on the ground. All we need is to transform the data to knowledge, as ore to steel. Only the supercomputers and people who know what to do with them will make such a transformation possible,’ he stated.

Commissioned by the National Science Foundation (NSF) in 2009 for $20 million, Gordon came online at the San Diego Supercomputer Center (SDSC) in early January 2012 and set a world record at the time by sustaining more than 35 million input/output operations per second in one demonstration.