Hardware / Software System for Portable and Low-Cost Genome Assembly

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Copyright: Gnanasambandapillai, Vikkitharan
“The enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health is one of the fundamental rights of every human being without distinction of race, religion, political belief, economic or social condition” [56]. Genomics (the study of the entire DNA) provides such a standard of health for people with rare diseases and helps control the spread of pandemics. Still, millions of human beings are unable to access genomics due to its cost, and portability. In genomics, DNA sequencers digitise DNA information, and computers analyse the digitised information. We have desktop and thumb-sized DNA sequencers, that digitise the DNA data rapidly. But computations necessary for the analysis of this data are inevitably performed on high-performance computers (HPCs) and cloud computers. These computations not only require powerful computers but also necessitate high-speed networks since the data generated are in the hundreds of gigabytes. Relying on HPCs and high-speed networks, deny the benefits that can be reaped by genomics for the masses who live in remote areas and in poorer nations. Developing a low-cost and portable genomics computation platform would provide personalised treatment based on an individual’s DNA and identify the source of the fast-spreading epidemics in remote areas and areas without HPC or network infrastructure. But developing a low-cost and portable genome analysing computing platform is a challenging task. This thesis develops novel computer architecture solutions to assemble the whole human DNA and COVID-19 virus RNA on a low-cost and portable platform. The first phase of the solution describes a ring-pipelined processor architecture for a key genome assembly algorithm. The human genome is partitioned to fit into the small memory footprint of embedded processors. These techniques allow an entire human genome to be assembled using highly portable and low-cost embedded processor cores. These processor cores can be housed within a single chip. Each processor was only 0.08 mm 2 and consumed just 37.5 mW. It has only 2 GB memory, 32-bit instruction width, and a clock with a 1 GHz frequency. The second phase of the solution describes how application-specific instruction-set processors can be sped up to execute a key genome assembly algorithm. A fully automated design system is presented, which improves the performance of large applications (such as genome assembly algorithm) and generates application-specific instructions for a commercial processor design tool (Xtensa). The tool enhances the base processor, which was used in the ring pipeline processor architecture. Thus, the alignment algorithms execute 2.1 times faster with only 11% additional hardware. The energy-delay product was reduced by 7.3× compared to the base processor. This tool is the only one of its type which can handle applications which are large. The third phase of the solution designs a portable low-cost genome assembly computer (PGA). PGA enhances the ring pipeline architecture with the customised processor found in phase two and with improved inter-processor communication. The results show that the COVID-19 virus RNA can be assembled in under 10 minutes and the whole human genome can be assembled in 11 days on a portable platform (HPC take around two days) for 30× coverage. PGA has an area footprint of just 5.68 mm 2 in a 28 nm technology node and is far smaller than a high-performance computer processor chip. The PGA consumes only 4W of power, which is lower than the power requirement of a high-performance processor chip. The manufacturing cost of the PGA also would be much cheaper than the high-performance system cost, when produced in volume. The developed solution can be powered by a USB port of a laptop. This thesis is the first of its type to show the design of a single-chip solution to be able to process a complex genomic problem. This thesis contributes to attaining one of the fundamental rights of every human being wherever they may live.
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PhD Doctorate
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