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article imageRoll over biology, super computer creates better crops

By Tim Sandle     May 25, 2015 in Science
For years biologists have toiled away to find ways to make better crops. Now it seems the answer lies with computers. An advanced computer has fully detailed the nanostructure of cellulose, the key to creating more robust grains.
Struggling to seek improvements to crop yields, researchers have turned to computer giant IBM for help. Biologists were keen to find out more about cellulose — the building block of plants — at the nano-scale level. IBM was able to provide a computer that can create three-dimensional models. The system used was the IBM Blue Gene/Q supercomputer.
Blue Gene is a supercomputer that has an operating speed at the PFLOPS (petaFLOPS) range. FLOPS (FLoating-point Operations Per Second) is a measure of computer performance,
One reason for using a computer was because traditional methods of biology, like staining, can be destructive to the individual cells that help to make up the plant. Other methods that involve opening up cells to see what is inside lead to a loss of biological activity, which means the observations are less meaningful.
Through using the computer, interesting information has been found about how cellulose is formed (what is called biosynthesis) and how is assembles together. On one level, cellulose, as many school books will assert, is a simple organic carbohydrate material. It is composed of glucose molecules that come together to form chains. When sufficient numbers of chains interlink, this creates fiber. The fiber is the basis of the cell wall; and millions of cells coming together form a green plant.
It is hoped that the revelations about the structure of cellulose will help scientists to develop better crops — disease-resistant and hardier for different environments. This would be through manipulating the way that cellulose forms to make it stronger and more resistant to a host of plant pathogens.
The study was carried out by researchers from IBM Research and the Universities of Melbourne and Queensland. The research has been reported to the journal Plant Physiology. The research is titled “Unique Aspects of the Structure and Dynamics of Elementary IβCellulose Microfibrils Revealed by Computational Simulations.”
More about Blue gene, Computers, Supercomputer, Crops, Cellulose
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