Solving protein folding in your lunch break

While you take time out to eat your lunch, your computer could be busy helping crack one of the biggest challenges of modern biology.

Andrew McLaughlin

LONDON. Understanding how proteins fold themselves into complex shapes is vitally important in comprehending how they work. But generating enough computer power to model folding in larger proteins is a feat beyond even the fastest of today's computers.

To help solve the problem, a team of researchers from Stanford University has set up folding@home, a computer network that enlists the help of idle computers around the world to simulate the folding process and distribute the results free of charge. By downloading a simple screen saver from the folding@home website, volunteers can contribute their computers' spare time to the project and help build an international super-computer capable of modeling these complex molecules as they self-assemble.

The idea of enlisting idle computers through the internet has been borrowed from another processing-heavy project — one that is searching for extraterrestrial intelligence. The SETI@home project uses the volunteer concept to analyze radio wave signals...

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