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Join the Fight Against Disease with Folding@Home: Learn How Your PC Can Make a Difference

Article Image Craig Hume - MD @ Utopia

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If you could step back in time to the fabulous '90s, you’d be able to witness a bunch of brilliant medical researchers have a breakthrough realisation. They knew to tackle the giant Protein folding challenges in front of them, they would need some serious computer muscle - not just the average computer you'd find at your local tech store. So, they dreamt up a future where a massive network of computers, all connected through the internet, could team up and solve problems together. And just like that, the legendary Folding@Home Project was born!

The Folding@Home squad, led by the talented Dr Greg Bowman at Washington University in St. Louis School of Medicine, created a network that has skyrocketed to becoming the biggest Supercomputer on the planet! When Covid struck, the army of people donating their computing power skyrocketed, resulting in the Folding@Home project now boasting more computing power than the combined might of the top 7 supercomputers in the world! Seriously impressive stiff.

That's equivalent to the horsepower of 27,433,824 CPU/GPU cores used to help the Folding@Home movement.

And your humble PC can join the hundreds of thousands of others, and at the end of this blog, I’m going to show you how...but first, how does it work and what is your computer doing when it’s ‘helping’.

Step 1

The world's best researchers upload a huge simulation onto one of their servers 

Step 2

We - the users, download little bits of the simulation - the size and complexity of which vary depending on the processing power your computer has (Folding@Home loves powerful GPUs - but can take advantage of CPU power too!) - then using special Folding@Home software (as I said more on that in a bit) - your computer will process and analyse these tiny simulation chucks, using your computer's processing power when it’s not being used by you and the applications and games that you are running. 

Step 3

Once your computer has solved its little bit of the simulation, it sends the completed piece back to the server and requests the next part of the simulation. 

Step 4 - the final step

Once enough computers send back all the pieces of the puzzle, the medical researchers at the Folding@Home project get their answer to their question! 

In short, this distributed computing model allows scientists to find cures to diseases faster than ever before.

Ok, so you're cool with donating your spare computing power, but what exactly is a Protein, and why do medical researchers need to model or ‘fold’ them to find solutions?

Well, proteins are required to structure, function, and regulate the body's cells, tissues, and organs. Each protein has unique functions, with proteins being the essential building blocks of our muscles, skin, bones, and the body as a whole.

Examples of proteins include classes of essential molecules, including enzymes, hormones, and antibodies. Seeing how proteins change or ‘fold’ is critical to fully understanding them. 

On the Folding@Home website, they explain that traditional examinations of proteins only give a single snapshot of that protein. The folding process allows medical researchers to see a particular protein's potential permutations. 

It goes on to give the analogy of a football game. If you had never seen a game before and only had one picture to work from, you would have no idea what was really going on...but if you got to watch the entire game, you would likely ‘mostly’ understand it.

The Folding@Home project allows researchers to collect all the folding or shape possibilities within a protein that is needed to be able to spot potential therapeutic methods and in turn to create cures.

So, by joining the fight, you are helping reduce the time it takes for medical researchers to receive the answers to their simulations. 

Following the link below, you can download the Folding@Home application and join the fight.

Want to join Utopia’s team? Our Team number is 238479 - you can follow our progress here:

At the time of writing, our Team is currently placed 1454 out of a quarter of a million teams currently folding, and our slightly competitive nature means that we would love you to join our team and help us progress even further. Of course, if you want to start your own team or join another, that's cool too! It’s all for a fantastic cause!

OK, so full disclosure here, your computer will be working on severe calculations, which means it will use all its available resources. In turn, this will hit your electricity bill, especially if you are not used to using your computer under full load all the time - on the flip side, you are contributing to a fantastic cause. Just keep an eye on your electricity meter if you do decide to join!

I hope to see you on the Utopia Folding at Home team soon! 

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