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Supercomputer ­nlocks the Secrets of Plant Cells to Create More Resilient Crops


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Monika Doblin, Research Fellow at the School of BioSciences at the University of Melbourne examines Arabidopsis thaliana plants as part of the Cell Wall Synthesis project.

Researchers are using supercomputers to help identify the nanostructure of cellulose.

Credit: University of Melbourne

In conjunction with the Victorian Life Sciences Computation Initiative (VLSCI), scientists from the Universities of Melbourne and Queensland in Australia and IBM Research have used supercomputers to move a step closer to identifying the nanostructure of cellulose.

The research is part of VLSCI's longer-term program to develop a three-dimensional computer-simulated model of the entire plant wall.

The researchers used VLSCI's IBM Blue Gene/Q supercomputer, known as Avoca, to carry out the quadrillions of calculations required to model the motions of cellulose atoms. "Thanks to IBM's expertise in molecular modeling and VLSCI's computational power, we have been able to create models of the plant wall at the molecular level which will lead to new levels of understanding about the formation of cellulose," says University of Melbourne researcher Monika Doblin.

Cellulose has proved difficult to study because the physical methods of studying plant cells are too invasive and disrupt the processes that would need to be studied, so the researchers turned to supercomputers to model cellulose at the atomic level. The insights they have gained could help the development of more disease-resistant crops and boost the sustainability of the pulp, paper, and fiber industry.

From University of Melbourne
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