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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