Technology

Folding@Home: How Your PC Can Help in the Fight Against COVID-19

The new goal of the Folding@home project is modelling the structure of SARS-CoV-2 spike protein to identify sites that can be targeted by a therapeutic antibody.

Restaurants, bars and public spaces have been shut down and more and more people are working from home to slow the spread of the coronavirus. While volunteers are helping communities get through the crisis, some may be wondering how else they might contribute to efforts to contain the virus. The Folding@Home project has a novel suggestion: Donate your household’s unused computing power.

Folding@Home was developed by the Pande Laboratory at Stanford University in 2000 as a distributed computing project for simulating protein dynamics, including the process of protein folding and the movements of protein implicated in a variety of diseases. The idea was to have a network of volunteers run protein dynamics simulations on their personal computers to provide insights that might help researchers develop new therapeutics.

The new goal of the Folding@home project is modelling the structure of 2019-nCoV spike protein to identify sites that can be targeted by a therapeutic antibody. Coronaviruses invade cells via spike protein on their surfaces, which binds to a receptor protein on a lung cell. Understanding the structure of viral spike protein and how it binds to the ACE-2 human host cell receptor can help scientists stop viral entry into human cells.

Studying how the viral spike protein interacts with ACE-2 can provide insights for developing a therapeutic antibody to prevent the virus from infecting lung cells, where the first step of infection occurs. Proteins however can fold and unfold into a huge number of possible shapes, and it requires massive computing power to model such complex structural data.

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Side and top views of the prefusion structure of the SARS-CoV-2 Spike protein. Credit: Jason McLellan/University of Texas at Austin

In this age of supercomputers, donating personal GPU and CPU computing power might sound like drop in the bucket. But we are seeing the importance of community action in these difficult times, and it is believed that the cumulative power of home computers and citizen scientists united towards a common goal can positively contribute to global research on the coronavirus. The Folding@Home project has garnered partners such as NVIDIA, PCMR, Github, Razer, Intel, Ubisoft.

For readers who would like to donate their computing power to the fight against the coronavirus, here’s how:

Download Folding@Home from the project page.

  • Webcontrol : “Any disease” in the list “I support research fighting“
  • Advanced Control/FAHControl : Configure > Advanced, select “Any” in the list “Cause Preference”
    The COVID-19 related projects are on top priority and will be assigned automatically.
  • The COVID-19 related projects are
    • GPU: 11741 to 11764
    • CPU: 14328 – 14329 – 14530 – 14531

In case you’re not sure if your system can help

  • Folding@Home supports NVIDIA and AMD GPUs via OpenCL on Windows and Linux
  • The CPUs are supported on Windows, Linux, and MacOS

How to make sure the GPU is supported and detected

  • Update drivers with the latest ones from NVIDIA and AMD website
  • Reinstall the drivers if the Windows updates break the OpenCL support as it updates the drivers automatically
  • Manually install “opencl-icd” to match with the installed drivers

It is indeed an unprecedented and challenging time, but as Folding@Home encourages, “This is where you come in! With many computers working towards the same goal, we aim to help develop a therapeutic remedy as quickly as possible.”


Journalist: Fangyu Cai | Editor: Michael Sarazen

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