Episode Summary

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.

Episode Notes

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.

Please rate and review MoneyBall Medicine on Apple Podcasts! Here’s how to do that from an iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch:

• Launch the “Podcasts” app on your device. If you can’t find this app, swipe all the way to the left on your home screen until you’re on the Search page. Tap the search field at the top and type in “Podcasts.” Apple’s Podcasts app should show up in the search results.

• Tap the Podcasts app icon, and after it opens, tap the Search field at the top, or the little magnifying glass icon in the lower right corner.

• Type MoneyBall Medicine into the search field and press the Search button.

• In the search results, click on the MoneyBall Medicine logo.

• On the next page, scroll down until you see the Ratings & Reviews section. Below that, you’ll see five purple stars.

• Tap the stars to rate the show.

• Scroll down a little farther. You’ll see a purple link saying “Write a Review.”

• On the next screen, you’ll see the stars again. You can tap them to leave a rating if you haven’t already.

• In the Title field, type a summary for your review.

• In the Review field, type your review.

• When you’re finished, click Send.

• That’s it, you’re done. Thanks!