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Help Science Fight COVID-19

Many organizations and individuals are socially committed and voluntarily help the weak, the poor, and the sick. Others consider how they can contribute. Supporting organizations and individuals by starting an aid project, donating money, or providing human resources, can make a crucial difference.

The corona crisis is a challenge for many, if not all. Scientists around the world are experimenting with cures and vaccines, and they need help. However, you don't have to be a virologist to help science fight COVID-19. All you need is a computer and a free program called Folding@Home. It is not entirely new, but the interest resumed due to the current pandemic. Stanford University initiated the project in 2000 and has been researching cancer, Alzheimer's, and Parkinson's. Since 2019, the University of St. Louis School of Medicine has led the project. It is a non-profit project, and the generated results are not for sale. Researchers worldwide can access these data sets on request.

The software utilizes the home computer for a vast experiment. Researchers simulate how viruses attack the human organism. Viruses use specific proteins, and there are innumerable ways in which these proteins can change their shape. It is like a massive bunch of keys, where you have to find the right keys. Because hardly any computer would be able to try each key, everyone can help with their PC.

By now, users provide more than 2.4 exaflops of computing power — exceeding the combined computing power of the 500 fastest supercomputers on Earth. Individual PCs can thus jointly simulate how active ingredients interact with the virus's spike protein, which is needed for docking to human host cells. These simulations limit physical tests to dozens of hundreds instead of thousands in search of a suitable active ingredient. Despite all efforts and the latest findings on COVID-19, many questions remain unanswered in finding effective drugs and vaccines. Therefore, more computing power will help.

More than 2.7 million users and over 250,000 teams worldwide have already registered. Some use their home computer, others their servers in a data center, and yet others have set up dedicated hardware. It is an illustrious circle: large organizations like Amazon, AMD, Apple, CERN, Google, Hewlett Packard, Intel, Microsoft, Nvidia, Petrobras, and VMware joined, but also smaller companies, such as domain name registrars and hosting companies.

Anyone using Windows, macOS, or Linux can download a client that runs in the background. The client supports single and multi-core CPUs as well as GPUs from Nvidia and AMD. The client downloads work units containing protein data. Work units are a fraction of the simulation between states in a Markov state model. After processing the work unit, the client returns the result to Folding@Home, which then credits the user in return. This cycle repeats automatically. All work units have deadlines, and when a user misses a deadline, work units are redistributed.

It is a fallacy to believe that help from large companies suffices. The variations in the search for new cures, drugs, and vaccines will take a lot of time and effort. In total, more than 200 scientific publications were published as a direct result of Folding@Home. It is still a long way, and a straightforward principle applies — the more, the merrier. Join in now!

By Tobias Sattler, CTO at united-domains

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