University of Louisiana at Lafayette (ULL) researchers are using LONI (Louisiana Optical Network Infrastructure) computing resources to test hypotheses on how coronaviruses transmit and how certain drugs can inhibit the transmission.
Coronaviruses are a large group of viruses that can infect both humans and animals and may cause respiratory symptoms. In 2003, the SARS CoV (coronavirus), a member of this group, caused a severe acute respiratory disease syndrome (SARS) outbreak. Recently, another previously unknown coronavirus, named SARS-CoV-2, was discovered to be the cause of the outbreak of the COVID-19 disease. Since its first appearance in China a few months ago, it has spread to almost every country in the world, infecting at least one million people and killing more than 50,000. Despite the efforts of researchers around the world, effective treatments such as vaccines and drugs have not been found.
The research group of Dr. Wu Xu, Professor at the Department of Chemistry at ULL, is performing significant studies to take on the tremendous challenges of stopping the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Dr. Xu has extensive experiences studying the mechanisms by which signal transduction pathways and gene regulation control cell growth, proliferation, differentiation, death and disease. Currently, he and his research group are using computer simulations to learn how the structure of the virus allows its RNA to escape from endosome to spread further and how drugs such as hydroxychloroquine can interrupt it by inhibiting the production of a key protease molecule, the findings of which will provide critical knowledge on 3-D protein structure for the pharmaceutical industries to accelerate coronavirus drug development. For such studies, the computational demands are very high – Dr. Xu estimated that it would take more than 250,000 CPU-core-hours, equivalent to more than three years of compute time on an 8-core desktop. This is why, Dr. Xu said, leveraging LONI resources, especially the QB2 high performance computing (HPC) cluster, is essential for his research as it greatly accelerates the computation and allows timely contribution to be made to the fight to defeat COVID-19.
LONI is a state-of-the-art, fiber optics network funded by the Board of Regents that runs throughout Louisiana, and connects Louisiana research universities to one another as well as Internet2. The high-performance computing (HPC) service allows researchers to conduct and store highly complex experiments using compute powers specialized for highly intensive computational processing. This HPC service provided by LONI enables greater collaboration on research that produces results faster and with greater accuracy. LONI is owned and operated under the authority of the Louisiana Board of Regents.