Optalysys and the Earlham Institute Achieve Over 90% Energy Savings in Breakthrough Project Applying Optical Processing for DNA Sequence Alignment

12 February 2018

UK Science and Industry collaboration successfully shows optical processing technology performing genetic sequence alignment significantly reducing HPC power consumption

GLASSHOUGHTON, WEST YORKSHIRE, U.K. and NORWICH, U.K. – 12 February, 2018—Optalysys Ltd. (@Optalysys), a start-up commercialising light-speed optical coprocessors for AI/deep learning, and world-leading genomic research institute the Earlham Institute, EI, (@EarlhamInst), today announced the successful completion of the Genetic Search System (GENESYS) project. The GENESYS project, which was granted £0.5m in funding from Innovate UK, applied Optalysys’s unique optical processing technology to perform large-scale DNA sequence alignment.

The collaboration set out to provide a scalable, energy-efficient solution to this challenging high-performance computing (HPC) task. The benchmark case study for the project aligned metagenomic reads sequenced from the Human Microbiome Project Mock Community (a well characterised microbial community) against a database consisting of 20 bacterial genomes totalling 64 million base pairs.  The optical system exceeded the original targets delivering a 90 percent energy efficiency saving compared to the same test run on EI’s HPC cluster, with an accuracy comparable to the highly sensitive nucleotide form of BLAST, BLASTn (part of a family of Basic Local Alignment Search Tools used to compare query sequences with a library or database of sequences).

The project results also revealed the technology holds significant promise for long-read sequence alignment, where speed improvements of several orders of magnitude over conventional software algorithms are possible – as well as in Deep Learning, specifically convolutional neural networks (CNNs). 

The technology resulting from this project is launching in February 2018 as a cloud-based platform to a closed beta program of a select group of genomic institutes including EI (UK), the University of Manchester (UK), the University of York (UK), Oregon State University (USA), and Zealquest Scientific Technology Co.,Ltd in cooperation with the Shanghai Bioinformatics Center, Chinese Academy of Science.

“The collaboration with EI has been a great success,” said Dr. Nick New, founder and CEO of Optalysys. “We have demonstrated the technology at several international conferences including Advances in Genome Biology and Technology, Plant and Animal Genome Conference and Genome 10K/Genome Science, to an overwhelmingly enthusiastic response. We are looking forward to continuing our strong relationship with EI through the beta program and beyond.”

“Genomic institutes are being faced with analysing more and more data, and it is really exciting that new technologies like the Optalysys optical processing platform can support bioinformaticians processing data accurately, at a low cost and at high speeds,“ said Dr. Daniel Mapleson, analysis pipelines project leader at EI who was the EI lead for the genomics tests during the project.

Jon Mitchener, innovation lead for emerging technologies, Innovate UK, said, “GENESYS is a project that not only exemplifies the R&D done (combining novel optical HPC and deep learning AI techniques with a really important health-screening application), but also the way that support from Innovate UK can help accelerate the move from a prototype towards commercial product launch for a high-potential British SME like Optalysys.”

Notes to editors.

Notes to editors.

For more information, please contact:

Emma Blaylock
Optalysys Ltd

  • +44 1977 551615

Stuart Catchpole

Head of Business Development and Communications, Earlham Institute (EI)

  • +44 (0)1603 450 813


About Optalysys

Optalysys is developing optical computing platforms that will unlock new levels of processing capability at a fraction of the cost and energy consumption of conventional computers. Its first coprocessor is based on an established diffractive optical approach that uses low-power laser light in place of electricity. This inherently parallel method is highly scalable and will provide a new paradigm of computing.

About Earlham Institute

The Earlham Institute (EI) is a world-leading research institute focusing on the development of genomics and computational biology. EI is based within the Norwich Research Park and is one of eight institutes that receive strategic funding from Biotechnology and Biological Science Research Council (BBSRC) - £6.45M in 2015/2016 - as well as support from other research funders. EI operates a National Capability to promote the application of genomics and bioinformatics to advance bioscience research and innovation.

EI offers a state of the art DNA sequencing facility, unique by its operation of multiple complementary technologies for data generation. The Institute is a UK hub for innovative bioinformatics through research, analysis and interpretation of multiple, complex data sets. It hosts one of the largest computing hardware facilities dedicated to life science research in Europe. It is also actively involved in developing novel platforms to provide access to computational tools and processing capacity for multiple academic and industrial users and promoting applications of computational Bioscience. Additionally, the Institute offers a training programme through courses and workshops, and an outreach programme targeting key stakeholders, and wider public audiences through dialogue and science communication activities.


About Innovate UK

Innovate UK is the UK’s innovation agency. Innovate UK drives productivity and growth by supporting businesses to realise the potential of new technologies, develop ideas and make them a commercial success. For further information and to stay updated on our latest news visit www.gov.uk/innovateuk, follow us on Twitter at @innovateuk or subscribe to our YouTube channel at www.youtube.com/InnovateUK.

Tags: Sequencing