PC gamers across the world are being asked to donate some of the CPU and GPU power provided by their powerful computers to aid in the simulation of protein folding in the fight against COVID-19
The project, known as Folding@home (FAH), will utilise the power of hundreds of thousands of idle PCs owned by volunteers to simulate the molecular dynamics of protein folding and misfolding in various diseases.
The data would help the team to speed up the work on a potential vaccine for the coronavirus using what would essentially be an enormous super-computer.
Proteins are an important component to the functioning of viruses, including Ebola and the Zika virus.
The researchers aim to examine how specific proteins in the coronavirus could be disrupted, potentially preventing the virus from replicating within the human body.
Dr Greg Bowman, who is leading the project and director at FAH, said: “We’re simulating the dynamics of COVID-19 proteins to hunt for new therapeutic opportunities.
“Proteins are molecular machines that perform many functions we associate with life. They sense the environment (e.g. in taste and smell), perform work (e.g. muscle contraction and breaking down food), and play structural roles (e.g. your hair).
“Viruses also have proteins that they use to suppress our immune systems and reproduce themselves.
“To help tackle coronavirus, we want to understand how these viral proteins work and how we can design therapeutics to stop them.”
The coronavirus has infected more than 200,000 people worldwide and caused thousands of deaths, and scientists say that a vaccine could still be a year away. FAH has now added 23 projects using donated GPU power to study the virus, with the hopes of speeding up the process.
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“Each simulation you run is like buying a lottery ticket,” Bowman said.
“The more tickets we buy, the better our chances of hitting the jackpot. Usually, your computer will never be idle, but we’ve had such an enthusiastic response to our COVID-19 work that you will see some intermittent downtime as we sprint to setup more simulations.
“Please be patient with us! There is a lot of valuable science to be done, and we’re getting it running as quickly as we can.”
If you would like to contribute towards the project, you can visit the Folding@home site and download the software.