Over the past few weeks, and likely to continue for the foreseeable future, I have been stuck at home due to the outbreak of COVID-19. Schools are closed until the end of the year, restaurants are only doing take-out, the economy is in a recession, workers are getting laid off, and on top of all that, I can’t even hang out with my friends. The coronavirus outbreak has been an extreme nuisance (to say the least) in my life. So naturally, while browsing youtube (which I do a lot now that I’m trapped in my house) a video entitled “Here’s How YOU Can Help Find a Cure for COVID-19!” caught my eye. In the video, tech Youtuber Linus Sebastian educates his audience on a program created 2 years ago, Folding@Home.
The project was created in partnership between Stanford University, ATI (the company behind AMD processors), Nvidia (the company behind most graphics cards), Sony (you all know this one), and Pande Laboratory (Cincinnati Children’s hospital genetics). The idea behind Folding@Home ties in with our chapter 19 knowledge of the structure of viruses, and our chapter 17 knowledge on how a gene turns into a protein. As we know, proteins are made up of amino acid chains that fold up into complex structures, the structure of the protein, and the bases of the amino acids affect the function of the protein. In viruses like COVID-19, the proteins of the virus are used to suppress immune system response and replicate viral cells. As we know from learning about the billions of bases in amino acid chains, and from our own lab where we decoded certain DNA sequences from different species, decoding nitrogenous bases is very tedious, so tedious in fact that we make computers do it for us. However, it takes a lot of CPU (central processing unit) power to decode amino acid bases, and even more to run simulations of protein folding and structure. In order to run calculations to help scientists find cures for different viruses – such as COVID-19 – the simulations require a lot of computer power. The first solution to the problem of computer power is building supercomputers, however, supercomputers are extremely expensive and inefficient. One company, Folding@Home, found a solution to this problem. Given the rise in popularity of video games tied with the falling prices of computer parts, almost everyone has a computer. Whether it’s a Mac for school or work or a powerful gaming desktop, there are about 2 billion computers in the world. That is a lot of processing power. So, what Folding@home does is that upon installation of their program, they use your idle CPU power from your personal computer to decode proteins. Right now, they are focused on decoding COVID-19, however they also use computers to decode diseases like Breast cancer, Hepatitis, Alzheimers, Huntingtons, Parkinsons and many others. Folding@home is a program that allows people like you and me help in the fight against disease.
Doing Your Part With Folding@Home
I will now in a series of steps, show how to install the Folding@home program on your own personal computer, so that you can help in the fight against COVID-19 or any of the various other diseases that need decoding help.
Step 1: Go to Folding@Home and click on the “Start Folding” tab. The website automatically detects your computer operating system and displays a link to download the folding software.
Step 2: Download the suggested software and follow download prompts.
Step 3: After downloading, you will be redirected to a webpage that allows you to set up how you want your computer power to be used. You will be given the option to decode anonymously or set up an account and join a team (on my screenshot I joined the team of the youtuber Linus Sebastian who’s video I linked earlier). This page will give you options of when to use your computer power to fold, how often, what disease to help decode, how much power to use, while showing you the exact percentage of processing power being used by both your CPU and GPU (graphics card) at any current time. I would recommend bookmarking this page so that you can adjust your settings whenever you feel like changing how your computer power is used.