Clemson University researchers Alex Feltus and Kuang-Ching Wang are part of a team of scientists that received a $1.4 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to help meet the growing needs of the data-driven genomic science community.

The Tripal Gateway project will build on existing cyberinfrastructure to enhance the capacity of genomic databases to manage, exchange and process “big data.”

The project, led by Washington State University (WSU), is one of 17 grants, totaling $31 million, awarded by the NSF Data Infrastructure Building Blocks (DIBBs) program.

The three-year project will use software-defined networking technology to quickly transfer large data sets between computational resources and the database to support data sharing and analysis. Ultimately, it will link existing community databases for fruit and hardwood trees, as well as legumes, into a larger network of online research databases.

“This is an exciting project for our lab here at Clemson,” says Feltus, associate professor of genetics and biochemistry at Clemson and co-principal investigator on the award. “The software we develop will allow for rapid analysis of large biological datasets, which will enhance the science for many users of genome databases.”

Genomic research relies on community databases – websites that house genomic, genetic and breeding data – for use by scientists working in the same research area. By creating ways to easily share data between community databases, on demand, researchers will no longer have to navigate between multiple websites to obtain the information they need.

The project’s biological database of the component is a novel collaboration between the researchers at Clemson. It is based on open-source software known as Tripal, originally developed by principal investigator Stephen Ficklin and Meg Staton at Clemson and significantly enhanced by Dorrie Main at WSU and Kirsten Bett at the University of Saskatchewan.

“Collaborations on projects of this size and caliber often require the efforts of those from across the disciplines and this project is no exception,” says Wang, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at Clemson and senior member of the NSF project team. “Realization of full potential requires multidisciplinary researchers to collaborate in defining and creating a new workflow and software eco-system.”

Feltus and Wang previously collaborated through Clemson-NextNet, another NSF-funded project. Clemson Next-Net models a next-generation evolutionary campus network and services for productive and innovative research and education that will support significant new scientific research and education opportunities for multiple departments, colleges and research groups across its campus. The project facilitates future advances in the university’s networking infrastructure and its ability to connect to the national infrastructure.

“Clemson’s progressive cyberinfrastructure initiatives through Clemson-NextNet provided us the expertise and opportunity to be involved in the Tripal Gateway project with WSU,” Feltus said.

The Tripal Gateway project team includes Clemson alumnus Stephen Ficklin and Sook Jung, WSU; Alex Feltus and Kuang-Ching Wang, Clemson; Meg Staton, University of Tennessee; and Jill Wegrzyn, University of Connecticut.