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The Carbon Footprint of Bioinformatics

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posted on 2022-05-19, 02:28 authored by Jason Gavin GrealeyJason Gavin Grealey, L Lannelongue, WY Saw, J Marten, G McRossed D Sign©ric, S Ruiz-Carmona, Michael Inouye
Bioinformatic research relies on large-scale computational infrastructures which have a nonzero carbon footprint but so far, no study has quantified the environmental costs of bioinformatic tools and commonly run analyses. In this work, we estimate the carbon footprint of bioinformatics (in kilograms of CO2 equivalent units, kgCO2e) using the freely available Green Algorithms calculator (, last accessed 2022). We assessed 1) bioinformatic approaches in genome-wide association studies (GWAS), RNA sequencing, genome assembly, metagenomics, phylogenetics, and molecular simulations, as well as 2) computation strategies, such as parallelization, CPU (central processing unit) versus GPU (graphics processing unit), cloud versus local computing infrastructure, and geography. In particular, we found that biobank-scale GWAS emitted substantial kgCO2e and simple software upgrades could make it greener, for example, upgrading from BOLT-LMM v1 to v2.3 reduced carbon footprint by 73%. Moreover, switching from the average data center to a more efficient one can reduce carbon footprint by approximately 34%. Memory over-allocation can also be a substantial contributor to an algorithm's greenhouse gas emissions. The use of faster processors or greater parallelization reduces running time but can lead to greater carbon footprint. Finally, we provide guidance on how researchers can reduce power consumption and minimize kgCO2e. Overall, this work elucidates the carbon footprint of common analyses in bioinformatics and provides solutions which empower a move toward greener research.


We thank Kim van Daalen for the fruitful discussions about the impact of climate change on human health. We also thank Dr Michelle Wille for their helpful insights. J.G. was supported by a La Trobe University Postgraduate Research Scholarship jointly funded by the Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute and a La Trobe University Full-Fee Research Scholarship. L.L. was supported by the University of Cambridge MRC DTP (MR/S502443/1). This work was supported by core funding from the: UK Medical Research Council (MR/L003120/1), British Heart Foundation (RG/13/13/30194; RG/18/13/33946), and NIHR Cambridge Biomedical Research Centre (BRC-1215-20014) (The views expressed are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the NIHR or the Department of Health and Social Care). J.M. is currently an employee of Genomics PLC. This work was also supported by Health Data Research UK, which is funded by the UK Medical Research Council, Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, Economic and Social Research Council, Department of Health and Social Care (England), Chief Scientist Office of the Scottish Government Health and Social Care Directorates, Health and Social Care Research and Development Division (Welsh Government), Public Health Agency (Northern Ireland), and British Heart Foundation and Wellcome. M.I. was supported by the Munz Chair of Cardiovascular Prediction and Prevention. This study was supported by the Victorian Government's Operational Infrastructure Support (OIS) program.


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Molecular Biology and Evolution





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Oxford University Press



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© The Author(s) 2022. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Society for Molecular Biology and Evolution. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (https://creativecommons. org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted reuse, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.