This week Harry interviews Gregory Bowman, an associate professor in the department of biochemistry and molecular biophysics in the School of Medicine at Washington University in St. Louis. Bowman is the director of Folding@home, a distributed computing project currently focused on analyzing the structures of coronavirus proteins to find targets for new drug therapies that could help end the pandemic.
This week Harry interviews Gregory Bowman, an associate professor in the department of biochemistry and molecular biophysics in the School of Medicine at Washington University in St. Louis. Bowman is the current director of Folding@home, a distributed computing project currently focused on analyzing the structures of coronavirus proteins to find targets for new drug therapies that could help end the pandemic.
Understanding and modeling the 3D structures of tiny, ever-shifting protein molecules is a notoriously complex problem. Folding@home cuts through it by sending crystallography data and other information to thousands of home computers and using it to model possible protein configurations—effectively creating a large, networked supercomputer. The project has been underway in various forms since 2000 but has recently concentrated fully on the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19. The hope is that the work will reveal locations on viral proteins where small-molecule drugs could bind, disrupting the virus’s ability to enter human cells, and replicate itself.
By patching together so many distributed machines, “We are the first computer to reach the exascale,” Bowman says. “Our peak performance is about 10-fold that of the world’s fastest traditional supercomputer. Even before the 100-fold growth we have experienced since starting our work on COVID-19, we were running calculations that would have cost millions of dollars to run on the cloud.” Now that number is in the hundreds of millions of dollars.
Anyone can contribute to the effort by going to foldingathome.org and downloading the Folding@home software to their Windows, Mac, or Linux machine.
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