Innovation

Your computer can help fight coronavirus right now

If you're worried about the coronavirus and want to help, you can donate your computing power.

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From the bustling shopping centers of Tokyo and Seoul to rural Oregon, people around the world are deeply concerned about the coronavirus. Just about every person on Earth is hoping a vaccine and therapeutics will be developed as soon as possible. You might think there's not much you can do to help make that happen, but a disease research organization is giving people an opportunity to get involved.

Folding@home, which describes itself as a "distributed computing project for disease research," announced last week that anyone who wants to can now download its software to donate their extra computing power to a research team at Memorial Sloan Kettering that is working on improving our understanding of the coronavirus.

To download Folding@home, simply go to the project's website, click the "Start folding now" button and then click the "Download now" button.

"The data you help us generate will be quickly and openly disseminated as part of an open science collaboration of multiple laboratories around the world, giving researchers new tools that may unlock new opportunities for developing lifesaving drugs," the group writes.

The group explains that the coronavirus is similar to the SARS virus in that it is an infection that occurs in the lungs. It says that a protein that on the surface of the virus, called a spike protein, binds to a receptor protein known as ACE2. The hope is that a therapeutic antibody can be developed to prevent these proteins from binding.

In order to develop this therapeutic antibody, the group claims scientists need to "better understand the structure of the viral spike protein and how it binds to the human ACE2 receptor." By donating your extra computing power, the research team Folding@home is supporting might be able to more quickly gain an understanding of this process.

"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," Folding@home writes.

Folding@home has been around since the year 2000, and it is operated by the Pande Laboratory at Stanford University. It derives its name from the fact it is dedicated to understanding the mechanisms of protein folding, which is how a protein chain develops a three-dimensional structure. This research has helped the group contribute to research into Alzheimer’s, Cancer, Diabetes, Malaria and more.

As we've previously reported, Folding@home was used by PS3 owners to help create a distributed supercomputer that had over one petaflop of power. Overall, the network is said to have a computing power of 135 petaflops as of 2018.

The coronavirus, officially known as COVID-19, has infected at least 108 Americans, and there have been six deaths thus far. It has infected over 91,000 people worldwide, and there have been over 3,000 deaths in total. Experts claim developing a vaccine will likely take at least a year, but therapeutics to treat the illness could be available within the next few months.

See also: Bots are waging a coronavirus disinformation campaign on social media

If you're worried about the coronavirus, then maybe consider donating some computer power you're not using to help researchers figure out how to treat and prevent it. In the meantime, don't forget to wash your hands regularly.

The Inverse analysis

We understand why people are worried about the coronavirus—it's a new virus and can be deadly—but we could all probably benefit from taking a deep breath and calming down. Panic doesn't benefit anyone. The likelihood you'll die from the coronavirus is low, so just wash your hands regularly, maintain healthy habits and make sure you call your doctor if you start to feel ill. Your doctor will most likely tell you it's something besides the coronavirus.

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