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Your home computer can help scientists fight coronavirus while you’re not using it

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Folding@home will allow you to donate your ‘unused computational resources’

a gray spherical structure dotted with red, corrugated triangles: the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 Image: Alissa Eckert, MS/CDC

A new collaboration between the Folding@home Consortium and the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center allows individuals to use their personal computers to help fight coronavirus. A free client is available to download right now, and will connect your PC to a massive distributed computational network. The complex computer models created by the collaboration will contribute to efforts to find a cure.

Also known as COVID-19, the novel coronavirus attaches to the human lung using a “viral spike protein.” Any search for a remedy must target this spike, neutralizing its ability to attach itself to healthy lung cells. However, scientists don’t currently have complete understanding of how the spike even works.

“Proteins are not stagnant — they wiggle and fold and unfold to take on numerous shapes,” writes Folding@home’s Ariana Brenner Clerkin. “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 [lung], so that an antibody can be designed.”

Folding@home began in 2000 as the work of just a handful of computer scientists. Much like the SETI@home program that came before it, it carves off small pieces of much larger computational tasks and farms the work out to personal computers around the world. As small jobs are completed, they’re pooled together to create larger frameworks, which are then shared with participating scientists. The consortium now includes 11 research universities and many thousands of individual volunteers. The effort has contributed to research on cancer, Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), Parkinson’s, Huntington’s, and even influenza.

You can download the Folding@home client for Linux, Mac, and Windows devices on the consortium’s official website.