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Oklahoma State University

OSU graduate student receives fellowship for supercomputer research

Thu, September 04, 2014

Brian Couger, a graduate student at Oklahoma State University, is the recipient of a prestigious research fellowship that he earned with the help of the campus supercomputer. 

Couger, from Frederick, Okla., has been awarded one of only four Champion Fellows designations from XSEDE (pronounced exceed), which will allow him to collaborate with scientific teams in genetic research. XSEDE is a research network funded by the National Science Foundation that focuses on ensuring researchers across the country access to high-tech research tools and top scientists.

Couger’s specific research area involves genomics, the genetic material of an organism, and he says there’s good reason it gets attention. “Everything about this research, this area of biology, has grown exponentially in recent years.”

As a microbiology and molecular genetics student working toward his doctorate, Couger can use genomic sequencing (a type of decoding process) to study and identify genes that may carry diseases and disorders. “In the next ten years, genomic diagnostics and genomic sequencing will have come so far that you will be able to go to your doctor and have your genome sequenced so you can avoid potential ailments for you and your children.” 

Couger explained that supercomputers are needed to sequence genomes because of the vast amount of information contained within a single chromosome. “What you have is one genome made up of separate pieces called chromosomes. To analyze the information they contain, we actually have to break the genome into millions of small pieces and then put them back together, much like a giant jigsaw puzzle. That’s what the computational research is about, taking this puzzle with millions of pieces and rejoining them to make one long chromosome.”

Couger credits OSU and the microbiology and molecular genetics department for his research achievements. “OSU has allowed me to excel at learning to effectively use the supercomputer or high performance computing for biological analysis and the use of sequencing technologies as well as bioinformatics software to study how certain fungi can turn plants into biofuel. The technologies and programs from this study are now being used for a variety of research projects.” 

Though he’s close to earning his doctorate, Couger isn’t ready to leave academia after he graduates. “I would like to be a professor and research independently. I like researching the human genome and some creatures’ genomes.”

Story by Kim Hunter

Video by Lance Spence