Computing system for COVID-19 sequencing analysis wins major award

A computational system set up for COVID-19 sequencing analysis has won a major award.

The Cloud Infrastructure for Microbial Bioinformatics (CLIMB) project was recognised in the 2020 HPCwire Readers’ and Editors’ Choice Awards.

It received the Readers’ Best High Performance Computing Collaboration award for its role in supporting the COVID-19 Genomics UK (COG-UK) Consortium.

The consortium is a UK-wide partnership working to sequence SARS-CoV-2 virus genomes to understand the spread of the virus and advise local and national control strategies. CLIMB has proved pivotal to this, providing the computing infrastructure and bioinformatics analysis capability that has so far helped sequence more than 100,000 virus genomes.

CLIMB was launched in 2014 with a grant from the Medical Research Council to meet the needs of medical microbiologists handling the vast amounts of data coming from genomics. It is an open, cloud-based computing infrastructure for developing and sharing datasets and bioinformatics software, tools and methods to interpret “big data’.

It is a partnership between the Universities of Cardiff, Bath, Birmingham, Leicester, Swansea and Warwick, the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and Quadram Institute Bioscience.

Professor Tom Connor, from Cardiff University and technical architect of CLIMB, said: “When we first conceived CLIMB we had the idea that it could provide a revolutionary place to bring together data and researchers to fight infectious disease.

“With COVID-19, CLIMB has proved its worth, providing us with the platform to be able to rapidly develop and scale up an analysis infrastructure to support the COVID-19 pandemic response.

“CLIMB COVID has had a massive impact, from supporting outbreak analysis in our hospitals all the way up to providing analyses that inform government policy. The impact of CLIMB and this award is a testament to both the hard work of the team and the broader vision of the CLIMB and CLIMB-BIG-DATA projects.’

CLIMB established itself as a national capability for microbiologists, with a community of more than 900 users at universities, research institutes and public health organisations across the UK. In early 2020, UKRI awarded 2m for the follow-on project, CLIMB-BIG-DATA - and this meant the infrastructure was ready and able to support the response to the global COVID-19 pandemic.

Dr Ewan Harrison, from the Wellcome Sanger Institute and University of Cambridge, and the Director of Strategy for COG-UK, said CLIMB-COVID has been “a principal component in the success of the COG-UK effort’.

HPCwire is a news and information resource covering the fastest computers in the world and the people who run them. A full list of winners in the 2020 awards can be found here.

The School has an international reputation for its teaching and research, and offers some of the top research-led bioscience curricula in the UK.


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