Bioinformatics Incubator Buys Into Juno’s Virtual Supercomputer

The Juno Virtual Supercomputer Network (JVSN), a distributed computing
scheme thought up by engineers at Juno Online Inc. as a way to further
monetize the company’s free subscriber base, signed its first customer
Tuesday.

Juno signed a letter of intent with bioinformatics incubator LaunchCyte LLC
which set forth terms of use for LaunchCyte and its portfolio of companies.

LaunchCyte, which expects to help start more than two dozen bioinformatics
companies over the next seven years, anticipates that many of its companies
will use the processing power of Juno’s subscriber base as a tool to speed
medical research in areas like genomics and the creation of new drugs.

The JVS is an alternative to traditional supercomputers. It breaks a
computational problem into small pieces which are then sent to subscribers
when online. Subscribers’ computers analyze the data when the subscribers’
screen savers are active, and send the results back to Juno the next time
they connect to the Internet.

The [email protected] project, managed
by a group of researchers at the Space Sciences Laboratory of the University
of California, Berkeley, has used just such a distributed computing scheme
for years to analyze radio signals for evidence of extraterrestrial
intelligence.

The world’s fastest traditional supercomputer, IBM’s ASCI White, is rated at
12 TeraFLOPS and costs about $110 million. [email protected] said it gets about 15
TeraFLOPS and has cost about $500,000 to date. [email protected] has about 3 million
volunteers who let the project utilize their computers. But with 15.9
million registered subscribers and 4.1 million active subscribers as of
March, has the potential to be much more powerful. According to Juno
President and Chief Executive Officer Charles Ardai, if all Juno’s
subscribers were working on the same project at the same time, the JVS would
hypothetically break the petahertz barrier with a projected effective
processor speed in the order of a billion megahertz.

Juno launched the virtual supercomputer project with the bioinformatics field —
the convergence of life sciences and information science — in mind. It even
brought in Yuri Rozenman, formerly of Applied Biosystems and with 13 years
of experience in the bioinformatics field, to head up the project as vice
president in charge of the Virtual Supercomputer Network.

Juno’s alliance with LaunchCyte will begin with an initial pilot project —
slated to begin later this quarter — to demonstrate the JVS’s potential to
LaunchCyte’s companies and lay the groundwork for revenue-generating
projects the companies might conduct with Juno.

Juno said at least two LaunchCyte-funded development stage companies are
expected to use the results of the pilot to evaluate purchasing time on the
JVS. One of the companies is a genomics endeavor developing tools to help
identify complex clusters of relationships among genes which could
potentially lead to new treatments for diseases like heart disease and
cancer. The other is a proteomics initiative which is looking at a
proprietary protein screening technology with the goal of accelerating drug
development.

“Although the bioinformatics market is still in its infancy, it is already
highly competitive,” said Thomas Petzinger, chief executive officer of
LaunchCyte. “Anything that speeds up the development process has the
potential to provide a significant competitive advantage. This is why we are
excited about the prospect of working with Juno. Juno’s virtual
supercomputing resources could enable companies we are launching to perform
analyses in weeks that might take months on traditional supercomputers.”

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