It is estimated that there are more than 600 million PCs in use around the world today. But computer owners only use their systems for a fraction of the day. So what are these computers doing in their spare time? Usually, nothing. That leaves an enormous amount of untapped computational power!
What they could be doing is helping to solve the most important scientific problems facing the world today. Solutions to problems such as HIV/AIDS, Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and cancer, can all be more quickly discovered by something as simple as volunteering your computer's idle cycles to the projects at the World Community Grid.
Launched on November 16th 2004, the World Community Grid was developed by the National Institute of Health, the World Health Organization, the United Nations and Oxford University. IBM joined the project and donated hardware, such as eServers, operating system software, and the technical services of maintenance, hosting and support. United Devices has contributed its Grid MP Software. This software makes it possible for organizations to "harness the power of online computers" on a world wide scale. Other participating organizations include the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, the Markle Foundation, and the Mayo Clinic.
The mission of the World Community Grid (WCG) is "to create the world's largest public computing grid to tackle projects that benefit humanity." Here's how it works: the Grid currently links together over 100,000 volunteers, with the potential of 10 million or more computers all over the world, creating a large system of computers. Work is divided into small pieces called "work units" and shared among the computers in the system. It would take a supercomputer years to accomplish such a large workload; where as a large group of lesser computers can accomplish it in months. Last year alone the more than 100,000 volunteers on the WCG and their 170,000 plus computers accomplished around 20,000 years of research!
Current projects being conducted at the WCG are, the Human Proteome Project, sponsored by the Institute for Systems Biology and the FightAIDS@Home project of the Scripps Research Institute. Volunteers may choose to dedicate their computer(s) to either of the projects or to both.
The Grid's Human Proteome Project has returned tremendous results. Previously only 18,000 of the 30,000 protein structures in the Human Proteome were known. After just twelve months the volunteers of the WCG have contributed an additional 9,000 proteins. It would have taken the existing computers at the Institute of Systems Biology 100 years to get these results!
DNA is composed of genes, and genes tell amino acids how to form chains to become proteins. Once amino acids are in a chain it must fold properly to make a protein our bodies can use. There are so many different ways a protein can fold that discovering the correct way it should fold, and the function of it once it has folded, is an enormous task.
The Human Proteome Project is being used to predict the shape of folded proteins. Scientists use these predictions to discover the function of the protein. If scientists could understand how each of the 30,000 proteins affect human health they could discover and develop new treatments and cures for diseases such as, cancer, Alzheimer's, and AIDS.
On November 21st 2005 the World Community Grid welcomed the FightAIDS@Home project. FightAIDS@Home is using the Grid's computing power and the AutoDock program to develop new treatments for HIV/AIDS.
The AutoDock program, developed by Dr. Olson's laboratory, predicts how different structured molecules might "bind" or "dock" with the HIV protease. Blocking the protease potentially keeps the HIV virus from developing into AIDS.
The problem according to the FightAIDS@Home Web site is that, "HIV is a 'sloppy copier', in other words, it makes mistakes every time it replicates. In fact, the virus is estimated to produce roughly a billion mutants in a single infected person every day." Using AutoDock, scientists will be able to compare millions of drug possibilities and study how they may be able to fight "known drug-resistant mutants of HIV."
Joining the World Community Grid is simple, free, and secure. Just visit http://www.worldcommunitygrid.org and click the download link. All results from the projects become public domain and researchers that use the Grid must keep their research and software in the public domain as well.
The WCG software is available for Windows 98, ME, 2000, and XP. The Grid has also added a newly developed Linux platform BOINC (Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing). For more system requirement information please visit here.
Once you have downloaded the software your computer will request a work unit and will automatically begin work on it. When you want to use your computer the agent steps out of the way and your work becomes the priority.
When your system is in idle or only being used lightly, it will begin work again. After your computer has finished its work unit, it will send the results back to the server and request a new piece of work. The more your computer is on, the more work it can do!
More information can be found at:
Institute for Systems Biology (Human Proteome Project)