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IBM Transforms the Art of Scientific Expeditions


ARMONK, NY - 17 Aug 2005: IBM today said it has begun deploying new customized data gathering software technologies as part of its contribution to the Genographic Project, a landmark five year study in partnership with the National Geographic Society, to gather and analyze the largest number of human DNA samples to map how the earth was populated.

The field collection technology is revolutionizing the Genographic geneticists' ability to collect, manage, store and securely transmit background data on sample participants in every corner of the globe. The systems are being deployed on six continents to scientists from prominent international institutions charged with conducting genetic field research.

"This is a giant leap forward for field expeditions everywhere," said Dr. Spencer Wells, Genographic Project Director and an Explorer-in-Residence at National Geographic Society. "IBM is helping to greatly advance and expedite quality sampling while providing our Project investigators and indigenous groups themselves peace of mind that the information they are gathering is securely stored and protected."

The two organizations are furthering their understanding of human diversity, roots and linkages, through the use of leading edge technology to collect and study genetic, anthropological, and linguistic data from fast dwindling indigenous populations worldwide and from the general public.

The systems are composed of T42 Thinkpad laptops loaded with a data gathering application designed by IBM and the Genographic Project's principal investigators and custom-built by IBM's emerging technologies team. Research sites around the world are being equipped with specialized software to help researchers collect genetic data in remote locations and synchronize it with the master data repository.

The customized field software captures the "context" data of DNA samples on a given expedition. It's designed so that dozens of languages and regions are acknowledged while cross populating other fields with related data, making collecting for a group of people in the same region much faster and more accurate.

The team is helping to deal with the challenges of intermittent connectivity in remote locations of the world as well as security to protect the identity of the sample donors and the integrity of the data. Once the sample information is collected and inputted it is automatically assigned a unique, random Genographic Project I.D. to ensure participant anonymity.

"The task of gathering genetic and associated data into a combined format that is usable by scientists and researchers remains daunting in its complexity," said Ajay Royyuru, Senior Manager, IBM Computational Biology Center. "Bringing scientific expeditions into the modern era is an example of IBM's core value of driving innovation that matters to the world."

The deployed system has the flexibility to accommodate new data inputs as they arise while integrating advanced communication tools enabling real-time collaboration among the Genographic scientific team. Once the genetic samples have been sequenced at the corresponding local laboratory, this same solution can then receive the electronic sample output, merge it with the associated cultural or phenotypic data gathered in the field, and securely transmit it for final analysis at the Genographic Project's central database half a world away.

IBM and National Geographic further point out that while aspects of scientific expeditions, such as transportation, telecommunications, and medical care, have kept pace with the times, most chronicling of observations in the field are relegated to paper and pen or pencil. By providing a laptop-based solution that has advanced battery, backup and wireless capability, the Genographic Project team will bring the gathering component of their worldwide expeditions into the 21st century. Further, this same secure system can also then be used in the principal investigators' labs, eliminating time-consuming and error-prone transfers of information from paper to electronic analytic systems.

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Contact(s) information

Michael Loughran
IBM Media Relations
(914) 499-6446
mloughra@us.ibm.com

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