Research Collaborative Awarded $50 Million to Advance Cyberinfrastructure for the Life Sciences

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded $50 million to a multi-institution collaborative headquartered at the University of Arizona's BIO5 Institute to create a national cyberinfrastructure for the biological sciences.

The renewal grant for the iPlant Collaborative, with partner sites at the Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC) at the University of Texas, Austin; Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL) in New York; and the University of North Carolina Wilmington (UNCW) will allow scientists around the world to use proven computational tools to analyze very large datasets to efficiently address questions of global importance, advancing the understanding of biology beyond which any individual research group is capable.

The original, five-year $50 million project, initiated in 2008, was the largest grant ever awarded by the NSF in the biological sciences, and three times larger than any NSF grant received by an institute in the state of Arizona at the time. Today, even in a precarious time for national funding agencies, the NSF renewed the iPlant award for another five years, increasing the total investment in the project to $100 million.

Over the past five years, iPlant's team of 40-plus employees at the UA - working with additional personnel at TACC, CSHL and UNCW - has solicited the national and international plant research community for the computational and data-based challenges they face in research. Based on this community input, the team created a set of technologies for connecting scientists both to needed computational resources and to collaborators with expertise to accelerate the pace of their research. The iPlant tools and services are being adopted by a broad range of life science researchers in need of high performance computing for big data analysis and management. These tools and services also are being used in innovative approaches to education, outreach and the study of social networks.

Advances in biological research technology have enabled scientists to amass unlimited and unprecedented amounts of data. In the past, these scientists were able to meet computational challenges in their labs using workstations and university computer clusters. Now, they are finding that these resources are unable keep up at the same rate as data is acquired.

Fernando Martinez, director of the UA BIO5 Institute said, "In the model of BIO5 and the University of Arizona in general, iPlant brings together many different types of scientists, teachers and students who otherwise might not communicate with one another, and in doing so, creates the kind of multidisciplinary environment that is necessary to crack the toughest problems in modern biology."

The iPlant Collaborative is a virtual organization led from the University of Arizona, the University of Texas at Austin, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York, and the University of North Carolina Wilmington, with participants from institutions around the nation and the world. iPlant is funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation with a large team located at UA's BIO5 Institute. Learn more at

The BIO5 Institute mobilizes top researchers in agriculture, engineering, medicine, pharmacy and science to find creative solutions to humanity's most pressing health and environmental challenges. Since 2001, this interdisciplinary approach has been an international model of how to conduct collaborative research, and has resulted in improved food crops, innovative diagnostics and devices and promising new therapies. Learn more at