May 23, 2018
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MDI lab receives $1.73M grant

By Bill Trotter, BDN Staff

BAR HARBOR, Maine — With the help of a technology infrastructure grant from the federal government, Maine’s broadband network is going to get a little broader.

The National Center for Research Resources is giving Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory $1.73 million to boost high-speed Internet connections between Bangor and Presque Isle and along the coast between Portland and Ellsworth. The improvements are aimed at boosting the data transmission and storage capacity for institutional members of Maine’s Idea Network for Biomedical Research Excellence.

By extending existing broadband capacity to Presque Isle, the grant will help position Maine to connect with Canada’s research and education network, according to project officials. It also will help fund a genome sequencing project supported by the improved broadband network and will pay for additional network data storage capacity and a new statistician position at MDI Bio Lab to assist network researchers and students.

MDI Bio Lab is the lead institution in Maine of the INBRE collaborative network, which links MDI Bio Lab and The Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbor with 11 Maine colleges and universities. The purpose of the network is to boost the state’s biomedical research capacity at its higher learning and nonprofit research institutions.

Jerilyn Bowers, spokeswoman for MDI Bio Lab, said Wednesday that the amount of data being collected by biomedical research institutions in and out of Maine has grown exponentially in recent years and increasingly is being shared among multiple research institutions and the public. The state’s growing biomedical research industry needs improved broadband storage, transmission capacity and redundancy if it is going to keep developing, she said.

For example, Bowers said, it typically used to take months to map out the genome sequence of any one type of creature.

“Now, they can sequence an entire animal in one or two days,” she said. “We’re talking huge datasets. It’s a little different than the average e-mail.”

Bowers said INBRE members already have started working with other institutions to map out the genome sequence for the little skate species. Such genome data takes up large volumes of broadband capacity, Bowers said, and is a good example of the type of research that can be supported by increased fiber-optic infrastructure.

Randall Dahn, an investigator at MDI Bio Lab, has been researching the little skate and is eager to have the marine animal’s genome sequenced, according to Bowers. The genome of the little skate is of particular interest to researchers because it is smaller than the genomes of other comparable species such as the shark, and be-cause of the skate’s regenerative abilities, she said.

“They are able to regenerate their limbs in adulthood,” Bowers said. “[Dahn] is very excited about it.”

Bowers said the network improvements are expected to be made in two phases over the next two years. The additional network storage capacity and statistician at MDI Bio Lab should be in place by early next year, she said.

In a prepared statement about the $1.73 million grant, Jeff Letourneau, acting executive director of NetworkMaine for the University of Maine System, indicated that part of the planned broadband improvements are being funded by the National Science Foundation. This past summer, officials in Maine announced that the University of Maine and the University of Southern Maine had been awarded a $20 million grant to research and pursue advancements in sustainable technologies such as renewable energy, alternative transportation and water resource management. Some of the NSF money, awarded through its Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research initiative, is to be used for improvements in technology infrastructure in Maine.

The $1.73 million grant will enable INBRE to acquire specialized broadband networking equipment and to lease some strands of fiber-optic cable that will be added to the state’s overall broadband capacity. The lease helps make the added capacity possible and, with the help of other grants, will boost broadband access for other heavy Internet users in Maine, Letourneau said.

“It takes all these pieces of funding to try to complete the puzzle of creating a high-speed fiber-optic network throughout Maine,” Letourneau wrote in the statement. “The challenge in Maine is just too big for any one grant or any one entity to solve.”


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