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June 19, 2018

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Super-Computer Researchers Mining for a Cure

December 15, 2017

Developed and operated by the Pande Laboratory at Stanford UniversityFolding@Home is a way for people to contribute their unused computing power for disease research that simulates protein folding, computational drug design, and other types of molecular dynamics. By dedicating some computer resources, cures and solutions can be found much faster. The combined effort of thousands of individuals have directly led to the publishing of 152 scientific research papers and counting. 

 

Folding was originally done on a volunteer-type basis with no reward besides personal satisfaction, but cryptocurrency has changed that. Miners, or folders in this case, also get paid in FoldingCoin (FLDC) for their work.  

 

Folding Proteins

Proteins are long chain molecules made of amino acids. They are the force behind all of the biochemical reactions that make all biology work. Proteins aren't just found in muscles, they are in bones, skin, hair, and can even act as antibodies recognizing and eliminating unwanted invaders.

 

In order for proteins to serve their function, they must form a particular shape. These little biological machines self-assemble themselves in a process called folding. A correct fold results in a functioning protein. Problems quickly arise when misfolded proteins clump together and aggregate. Symptoms from Alzheimer's and Mad Cow disease are thought to be caused by the build up of these clumps in the brain. Many cancers are also thought to be caused by misfolded proteins.

Folding@Home uses computer simulations to replicate the folding process. By learning more about how these mechanisms work, therapies can be developed which augment cells' natural ability to regulate folding. Using computational molecular modeling in conjunction with experimental analysis, The Pande Laboratory 

 

Very dramatic video of a Folding@Home simulation

 

Distributed Computing

Typically, scientists use large supercomputers to simulate anything from protein folding, mapping the universe, quantum physics, or just about anything else related to science or mathematics. These supercomputers are absolutely massive, very expensive to build, and require hiring specialists to operate and maintain. The tradeoff for these expenses is raw power. Being able to solve big problems quickly leads to discovery and innovation.

 

Recently, distributed computing has been gaining traction and is becoming a popular solution for crunching really big problems. Rather than relying on a traditional, centralized supercomputer, the tasks are split into small jobs and sent to volunteer PCs for processing. Once the participant finishes the job, it is sent back to the researchers. This method eliminates the need for the centralized supercomputer.

 

Individuals giving up their processing power to fold protein may seem a bit idealistic, but they are no small force. In 2007, Guinness World Records recognized Folding@Home as the world's most powerful distributed computing network. Folding@Home remained the largest supercomputer between June 2007 and June 2011.

 Folding@Home (red) remained well above the rest until being overtaken by the K computer in 2011


 

 

A Good Deal All The Way Around

Those who are passionate about research and want to find an avenue in which to contribute will find few projects as trustworthy and transparent as Folding@Home and FoldingCoin. Contributors can have peace of mind knowing their processing power is going towards mining medicine, not hashes. And, solutions which this supercomputing is addressing are far-ranging and not limited to any one cause. 

 

The Pande Laboratory, developers of Folding@Home, is part of Stanford University, a non-profit entity, and does not sell results generated by Folding@Home. The data is freely available for other researchers to use upon request and some can be accessed from the Folding@Home website.

 

For those looking forward to full adoption of blockchain, it's nice to see that trustworthiness foreshadowed. To get started folding, click here.

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