[email protected] – a computing project run by Stanford University which uses distributed processing power to find cures for dangerous diseases – has announced that it is now working on finding a cure for the COVID-19 coronavirus.
The project relies on donated computing power from PC and laptop users around the world to learn more about protein folding, and users can participate by downloading the project’s software to their desktop PC or laptop.
The [email protected] software harnesses the unused processing power of participants’ PCs to run complex protein folding simulations and determine how viruses and other diseases can be combatted.
This allows the project to tackle problems that demand a large amount of computing power without the expense of using a supercomputer.
Gamers are in a unique position to deliver vast amounts of processing power thanks to the horsepower of their hardware.
The [email protected] software automatically detects the user’s system configuration and can make use of both CPU and GPU processing power.
Gaming PCs which have a dedicated graphics card can contribute 20- to 30-times the processing performance of standard CPUs to the protein folding platform, making them a powerful resource for the distributed computing project.
Viral protein spike
Like the previous SARS coronavirus, COVID-19 infection first starts in the lungs, when a protein on the surface of the virus called the “spike protein” binds to a receptor protein on a lung cell.
[email protected] aims to help develop a therapeutic antibody to stop this protein from binding to its receptor, which would prevent infection, but it needs to understand the structure of the viral spike protein before this can be accomplished.
“Proteins are not stagnant—they wiggle and fold and unfold to take on numerous shapes,” [email protected] said.
“We need to study not only one shape of the viral spike protein, but all the ways the protein wiggles and folds into alternative shapes in order to best understand how it interacts with the ACE2 receptor, so that an antibody can be designed.”
“Given this information, we are uniquely positioned to help model the structure of the 2019-nCoV spike protein and identify sites that can be targeted by a therapeutic antibody,” it said.