If you have some extra processing power laying around, you can put your editing PC to work to help fight COVID-19 through Folding@Home.

I get it. We’re all at home with this same hopeless feeling. Sometimes, with all of this going on, it’s easy to feel like there’s no way to help fight this pandemic and get our lives back to the way they were. But, what if I told you that you can help if you have an editing rig at home? Whether you use it for video editing, animation, or motion graphics, as long as it has a GPU, you can help the scientists at Folding@Home fight this virus from your own isolation chamber.

What Exactly Is Folding@Home?

COVID-19 is a dangerous flu virus, currently considered a pandemic. Image via creativeneko.

Folding@Home is a way for scientists to use the collective computing power of a network of consumer PCs, instead of relying on their own computing power. As advanced technology becomes more available to the public, new software allows companies to borrow some of that computing power for their own research and computing problems. It’s basically skirting the enormous cost of creating a server full of GPUs and processors by using a network of less-powerful computers combined to create a supercomputer.

Now, I’m not any sort of scientist, but according to Folding@Home, researching proteins from viruses takes an incredible amount of computing power. Here, I’ll just let them explain it:

Proteins are molecular machines that perform many functions we associate with life. They sense the environment (e.g. in taste and smell), perform work (e.g. muscle contraction and breaking down food), and play structural roles (e.g. your hair). They are made of a linear chain of chemicals called amino acids that, in many cases, spontaneously “fold” into compact, functional structures. Much like any other machine, it’s how a protein’s components are arranged and move that determine the protein’s function. In this case, the components are atoms.

Viruses also have proteins that they use to suppress our immune systems and reproduce themselves.

To help tackle coronavirus, we want to understand how these viral proteins work and how we can design therapeutics to stop them.

There are many experimental methods for determining protein structures. While extremely powerful, they only reveal a single snapshot of a protein’s usual shape. But proteins have lots of moving parts, so we really want to see the protein in action. The structures we can’t see experimentally may be the key to discovering a new therapeutic.

Chain of Amino Acid

Here’s a 3D chain of amino acid, or biomolecules, called protein. Image via Christoph Burgstedt.If that didn’t make it clear, here’s a solid sports analogy that might help:

Using football as an analogy for the experimental situation, it’s as if you could only see the players lined up for the snap (the single arrangement the players spend the most time in) and were blind to the rest of the game.

Seeing a single structure of a protein is like seeing players lined up for the snap in football. Important information, but a lot missing too. The protein structure shows a sphere for each atom … the one drug binding site in this protein.

Our specialty is in using computer simulations to understand proteins’ moving parts. Watching how the atoms in a protein move relative to one another is important because it captures valuable information that is inaccessible by any other means.

Taking the experimental structures as starting points, we can simulate how all the atoms in the protein move, effectively filling in the rest of the game that experiments miss.

So, effectively, you are using your home computer to help them see the full scale of a virus’s protein structure, and assisting in them finding gaps where they can find an entry point to fight the disease.

Protein Folding
Calnexin, a chaperone, characterized by assisting protein folding and quality control, ensuring that only properly folded and assembled proteins proceed further along the secretory pathway. Image via ibreakstock.

Folding@Home will also never disrupt your workflow. They’ll only take processing power that’s not currently being used by your PC. So, that means you can keep working on your projects, while simultaneously saving the world. Cool, right?

How Do I Get Started?

Gamer Playing Online Video
Download the Folding@Home app to help defeat this virus. Image via Gorodenkoff.

It’s extremely simple to get your PC to start fighting the good fight. Simply go here to download the Folding@Home app, and follow their instructions to start helping them find a way to defeat this virus. All of your efforts will help out the facilities at the Washington University in St. Louis School of Medicine — the group heading this monumental task.

CPU Cooler
Computer circuit board and CPU cooling fans illuminated by internal LEDs inside a server class computer. Image via Svetlana Sotnikova.

So, if your PC, Mac, or Linux computer is sitting around not doing much during this time of isolation, you can help  fight this disease and get the world back to where it was a few months ago. Safe travels, and help join the effort along with Nvidia and Intel Gaming!

Cover image via Gorodenkoff

Check out Shutterstock’s COVID-19 resources for information on the outbreak.