The computer graphics chip manufacturer Nvidia has called upon PC gamers to lend some of the power from their machines to help in the search for a coronavirus treatment. In their tweet, they ask gamers to join the ‘Folding@home’ project that helps understand diseases better.
It’s all about protein folding.
A protein molecule does different things depending on how it’s configured, and usually doesn’t even do its job unless it’s curled up in exactly the right way. This amazing feature of proteins, this biochemical oragami, is an incredibly difficult problem that usually requires a supercomputer to solve. Unfortunately, protein folding is key to understanding a lot of how biochemistry works, and in particular how to develop vaccines for their corresponding virii.
That’s where you come in. By donated unused computing power from your graphics card, you can make your humble gaming PC into part of a vast virtual supercomputer that spans the globe. That virtual supercomputer is called Folding@home.
Folding@home (FAH or F@h) is a distributed computing project for simulating protein dynamics, including the process of protein folding and the movements of proteins implicated in a variety of diseases. It brings together citizen scientists who volunteer to run simulations of protein dynamics on their personal computers. Insights from this data are helping scientists to better understand biology, and providing new opportunities for developing therapeutics.
You don’t have to have a Windows PC to participate – the Folding@Home software works on Windows, OSX and Linux.
Folding@home has been around for years – it was also available on PS3 back in the day – with users lending their distributed power to all kinds of research. A new wave of projects “simulating potentially druggable protein targets from SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) and the related SARS-CoV virus (for which more structural data is available)” were made available on the service earlier this week.
Researcher John Chodera said: ‘This initial wave of projects focuses on better understanding how these coronaviruses interact with the human ACE2 receptor required for viral entry into human host cells.
‘They also look at how researchers might be able to interfere with them through the design of new therapeutic antibodies or small molecules that might disrupt their interaction.’
The only coronavirus projects on the app currently require the use of a computer’s graphics processing unit (GPU) but others will be launching soon that use the central processing unit (CPU).
Greg Bowman, Director of Folding@Home, said said so many people have joined since Nvidia and others promoted the work that every project wanting to use computing power had been assigned.
‘We’re working as fast as we can to get more going. There is still lots of useful science to be done, so please be patient with us,’ he said.
Considering that many of us are self isolating, and in many countries in the world (Europe especially) there a quarantine measures in place, this is a great way to help out for someone ordinary, like you and me.
For more information about Folding@Home and the software you’ll need to participate, visit their web site at FoldingAtHome.org
Even without Folding@Home, there are still things you can do to help fight the disease.
Also, don’t forget the basic measures to stop the spread of the disease: hygiene and social distancing. Don’t hoard and panic buy goods, because panic buying creates artificial shortages – shops can’t stock goods on the shelves as fast as you are buying them, so it seems that there are no goods to be had. Avoid crowds, shop moderately (why the heck would someone need 10 packages of toilet paper? It’s not a diarrhea epidemic) and take care of yourselves!
And of course, SCIFI.radio is a great way to stay in touch with the geeking world and to keep your home full of the music you love!