Folding@Home, a distributed computing project that’s using its might to battle COVID-19, is now twice as fast as Summit, the world’s fastest supercomputer. In fact, it now has more brawn than the world’s top seven supercomputers – combined.
Folding@home’s director, Dr. Greg Bowman, told Twitter on Friday that the project’s now working with about 470 petaFLOPS in its quest to help scientists better understand how the virus’s proteins fold and bind and to hence be able to find a way to block them from attaching to human cells:
Amazing! @foldingathome now has over 470 petaFLOPS of compute power. To put that in perspective, that's more than 2x the peak performance of the Summit super computer!— Greg Bowman (@drGregBowman) March 20, 2020
Earlier this month, Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) announced that IBM’s Summit had joined the coronavirus fight and that it had already found 77 promising small-molecule drug compounds that can be tested for experimental use.
A distributed computing project like Folding@Home works by borrowing PC-owning donors’ idle CPU and GPU cycles. Since February, the community has been working on the computationally heavy work of figuring out how the virus’s proteins bind to cells.
It’s all about blocking those spikes on the outer surface of the virus.
Infection in both COVID-19 (2019-nCoV) and its close cousin, the SARS coronavirus (SARS-CoV), first happens in the lungs when a protein on the surface of the virus binds to a receptor protein on a lung cell.
You’ve seen those little spikes in depictions of the coronavirus: they’re the red prongs that surround the virus, looking like a corona and hence giving the disease its name. They’re called the spike protein, or ACE2. One way to stop the infection is to block the spike protein from binding to the receptor cell. One such therapeutic antibody has already been developed for SARS-CoV, but in order to develop something similar for COVID-19, scientists need to better understand the structure of the virus’s spike protein and how it binds to the human ACE2 receptor to gain viral entry into human cells.
In late February, when the outbreak was picking up steam, the Folding@Home project asked for volunteers to donate their computers’ unused computational power to help accelerate the open science effort to develop new life-saving therapies, as part of an open science collaboration of multiple laboratories around the world.
Folding@Home says there’s been a roughly 1,200% increase in contributors, with 400,000 new members signing up in the past two weeks.
Got a spare computer collecting dust somewhere? It might well be time to dust that soldier off and commission it in the battle. Folding@Home is still looking for help and horsepower, and you can find out how to contribute here.
A disclaimer: this project has, understandably, been swamped by eager participants. Please do bear with them: they’re doing the best they can, the project said, but there might be a bit of downtime as they set up simulations:
These calculations are enormous and every little bit helps! Each simulation you run is like buying a lottery ticket. 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.
May you tread a carpet of four-leaf clovers in this lottery, Folding@Home.
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3 comments on “Your unused computer could help find a COVID-19 cure”
Good Stuff! Do you know if there is a docker image out there? I only see VMware.
I googled for something and found:
Planning to give it a try later tonight. (I can’t get the advance config tool to work on my Ubuntu machine.)
Speaking of buying a lottery ticket,
Quick thought – share if you concur.
If you are the person doing the shopping, whether it’s just for yourself or includes others – ask for and keep all the receipts for future reference…
It is not a very nice sort of lottery ticket in some cases, but it will usefully & hopefully very practically tell all concerned about places and times where you were, ideally cctv can then further narrow down and say for how long and the rest is history, in that – should there be a case developing and where merely exhaling on to a surface area could affect others for hours [/days?*] after – the loose ends are easier to detect and tidy up.
*…from The Guardian>>
Evidence of Covid-19 was found on a cruise ship 17 days after passengers left. What are the risks of handling packages and groceries?
On Folding at Home, [from my comment on the FB post]
SETI@home does/did the very same thing. I have no qualms about it personally, but I do not pay the electricity bill.
Also, some systems are faster than others and it’s fairly easy to get the .iso for varieties of Linux installations, especially with old computers in mind [think, ‘dsl’, ‘lxde’, ‘macpup’, etc. – all free and ‘elive’ which has a comparatively small charge, all geared towards reviving less powerful/older systems – lots of pages devoted to this on the internet too]… These being used solely for this purpose, more especially if there’s an .iso made purposely, could be an extra edge, there are innumerable packages relating to the sciences also readily available – are there any recommendations along these lines?
I have a very old [2002ish] IBM Thinkpad 600 [using elive], and an Acer that came with Win7 so a couple/few years after its release [using lxde].
I’ve also built a clusterpi supercomputer using five RPi3 boards.
If you could get each of these working individually while plugged in as one computer, the total power consumption would not exceed 300w/h
The original RPi supercomputer, built by Professor Simon Cox and his son, uses sixty four model A boards, and these are incredibly good value for money now as multiple hardware revisions have succeeded it and kept the current model price around the £30 [$35] mark.
Successive supercomputers along these lines exceed 64 boards and there’s also the Pi0, a very slender £5 board that may prove to be the best [most economical] of all if set up & left running as a headerless system.
In recent years I also swapped out all the incandescant & ES bulbs at home that are most frequently used, to run LED instead, so there’s up to a 90% electricity saving there that could make this viable in the first few months, after that though it’s leaving the lights on but eyes are still wide with glowering at the ticking meter…