Coronavirus: how your computer could help find a vaccine | FT

Folding@home is the world’s largest networked supercomputer. Director Dr Greg Bowman explains how personal computer power is being used to run protein simulations and search for a vaccine for Covid-19. #coronavirus #covid19 #tech #vaccine #health

I tweeted out a drawing from when i was eight years old where it was my biggest daydream it’s a picture of a big computer and says i want to have the biggest computer in the world yeah you know with foley at home is that we want to perform simulations of protein dynamics proteins are the molecular machines that perform lots of the processes that we associate with

Life everything for a muscle contraction – structural roles like your hair and catalyzing chemical reactions and so we really want to understand all of these moving parts but there’s no experimental means to watch these proteins in action as a decide that were talking about and so our approach is to simulate them in a computer and the reason that bowling at home

Exists of these calculations are extremely computationally expensive so even our easy problems you have take like a hundred years on a typical desktop computer so what we’ve done is developed out rows where we can split these enormous calculations up into lots of small chunks that can be performed in parallel independent of one another and then ask people around

The world to volunteer to run these chunks of simulations on their personal computers boards you don’t have to have a really fast computer to participate in all day at home we can make use of everything people can give us holding at home is estimated to be by far the largest supercomputer in the world by one back the envelope calculation we have more compute

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Power than the top 100 supercomputers combined and we’re throwing as much of this as we can at kovac 19 and trying everything we can in parallel the end of february we had about 30,000 active volunteers in the past three weeks though we’ve had over 700,000 people joined the project so the idea is that experimentally we can see a snapshot of what many of these

Proteins usually look like but that still leaves us blind to lots of the moving parts that are important for their functions this is if you’re trying to understand a football game but all you can see is what the players usually look like which is them lined up at the line of scrimmage so there’s information there but really you want to see the rest of the game as

The process unfolds and so that’s what we’re able to do with our simulations so so just to give one example we’ve been looking at a protein complex actually called the spike there’s many copies of this that decorate the surface of the virus as actually consists of three proteins that kind of come together and in order to infect a human cell the end of this has to

Open up to reveal the interface that actually binds to a human cell and initiates infection and so we’d like to see this process occur and actually see what the open state looks like with the atomic detail that we need to start doing things like designing therapeutics to target different structures along this whole range of motion and it does really go like this

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So so it kind of reminded us of one of the devon gorgon monsters from the television series strange of things so we we’ve taken to calling it the kovat 19th and the cork it doesn’t have to so so when you install the software you can tell us what fraction of your computer you we can use you can also set things with a software only runs where your computer has been

Idle for a certain amount of time so we’re not using it all when you want to use a condition so this is a specific protein called beta lactamase it’s involved in antibiotic resistant bacteria express it because it’s really good at in activating penicillin and related antibiotics and what we can see about 23 seconds in is the spontaneous opening of this deep groove

That we call a cryptic pocket because it’s absent in that a starting structure where there’s no groove we’ve shown that this provides us with a novel handle to design small molecules to shut down the function of this protein you know i think one of the really exciting things about this is to see people really banding together to rally around a common goal and one

Of the things that we have to offer people as the legitimate opportunity to be part of trying to tackle this pandemic washing your hands and social distancing and all of this are extremely important but i think it’s still gratifying to feel like you can proactively do something to deal with this crisis you

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Transcribed from video
Coronavirus: how your computer could help find a vaccine | FT By Financial Times

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