Distributed computing has again proved its worth to scientists by unravelling part of a problem that has tantalised them for decades.
Stanford University scientists Christopher Snow and Vijay Pande, and their team of 30,000 PCs 'working' for the [email protected] distributed computing project, have successfully simulated part of the complex folding process of a typical protein molecule.
The biologists hope that, as their appreciation of this complex subject grows, it will lead to a better understanding of a range of degenerative diseases.
Pande, assistant professor of chemistry and structural biology at Stanford, said in a statement: "The process of protein folding remains a mystery.
"When proteins mis-fold they sometimes clump together, forming aggregates in the brain that have been observed in patients with Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and other diseases."
One of the problems for biologists has been the speed with which these molecules fold. It can take an average PC a day just to simulate one folding sequence and there are thousands to monitor.
So Pande and Snow set up the distributed computing project, through which people download a screensaver which processes data for the programme.
More than 200,000 PCs have the screensaver installed of which around 30,000 were used to resolve the folding dynamics of two mutant forms of a tiny protein called BBA5.
Writing in Nature magazine, where the findings were published, Pande described the experiments as great success for distributed computing.
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