Using the Australian Research Cloud to unlock the secrets of evolution

Using the Australian Research Cloud to unlock the secrets of evolution
December 22, 2014 Sarah Nisbet

Professor Michael Lee

Associate Professor Mike Lee

I am investigating some of the biggest events in history of life, such as the initial radiation of animals during the Cambrian explosion, and the evolution of huge, ponderous dinosaurs into tiny, flying birds.

Most of the hard evidence for these events comes from the fossil record, but the most novel mathematical tools for these studies come from molecular biology (algorithms for inferring evolutionary trees and associated events).

Merging these disparate disciplines allow us to answer some intriguing questions such as “how fast did animals evolve during the Cambrian explosion” ( and “how abruptly did body size change during the dinosaur-bird transition (Science 345: 562-566)”?

However, they are computationally very intensive, as we have to simultaneously consider many lines of evidence – which is where the computing resources of NeCTAR Australian Research Cloud are indispensable.

This work requires many compute jobs that need to run for weeks, which is not compatible with the walltime limits on HPC jobs.

  • “The supercomputing facilities at eResearch SA permit analysis of a host of interesting problems in evolutionary biology. It is the only computer system in SA that can perform certain complex calculations required to infer large evolutionary trees and associated patterns of evolution.”  
    Associate Professor Michael LeeSouth Australian Museum
  • "The eRSA support is very personal and solution-focused and not just a brushing off 'it's-your-fault-check-your-code' kind of support which one sometimes gets from University tech supports. I very much appreciate the help."  
    Sven SchellenbergSchool of Science, RMIT University
  • On using an eResearch program to complete 3D modelling of architectural records: “We were able to build an interactive, photo image model of the [historical South Australian property Joseph Elliot’s cottage] home – transforming simple sketches and floor plans into an interactive 3D experience... what we have now is a computerised model that allows us to experience the Elliott house beyond just words on paper”.
    Associate Professor Christine Garnaut
  • “Having access to greater computer power helps us put in place a more realistic model in terms of the number of atoms you can have in the system and that improves the predictive power of the calculations.”
    Professor Andrea GersonMinerals and Materials Science & Technology
  • “It would be impossible to do the type of research that we’re doing without them – it is a major factor in achieving our research outcomes.”  
    Associate Professor Con DoolanSchool of Mechanical Engineering, University of Adelaide
  • “Open source intelligence is about extracting information from blogs, news sites and social media platforms, any information that can be freely accessed online. There’s way too much information out there for an individual or group of people to comprehend, so we have created automated tools to allow our users to extract the data they need...access to the latest technology allow[s] us to continue to provide the best platforms to our end-users.”
    David BlockowData to Decisions CRC

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