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Medicine Technology

The Science of Folding@home 88

mr_sifter writes "As previously discussed, computers running Folding@home now contribute over 1 petaflop of processing power to research into protein folding, making Folding@home the most successful example yet of a distributed computing app. It's also at the forefront of GPGPU computing, with both Nvidia and ATI keen to push how well their graphics chips perform when folding. So the technology is great, but what about the science? This feature looks at how the Folding project was developed, how it's helping researchers and the thorny question of how long it might be until the software running on your PC or PS3 actually produces real-world results."
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The Science of Folding@home

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  • by OeLeWaPpErKe ( 412765 ) on Monday June 15, 2009 @09:43AM (#28334455) Homepage

    Heh, if you're truly worried about that, worry about treatments. If any (non-trivial) treatment consisting of specifically folding proteins is found, then there will be exactly one way to produce said drug : genetic manipulation. Only a genetically modified cell will be able to produce those custom proteins.

    So it's not "buzzword-compliant" in more than one sence. It burns heaps of co2, it relies on genetic modification, specifically on injecting live humans with substances coming from "mutants" (just like most insulin today, but hey, at least that protein was natural in origin).

    And it's also a sign of "skynet" to come, so to speak. Right now humans are telling these computers what to do, but there is no way in hell a human could ever hope to do what these supercomputers do. In 10 lifetimes you wouldn't get 1 nanosecond from the initial chain using paper.

    This is basically a computer using a (basic) kind of artificial intelligence to respond to human questions about the real world. I doubt AI of this level would become self-conscious any time soon, but if an intelligence were to directly (or through deception) control a ribosome, like this one does, that would enable it to self-replicate. The question it would need to answer is one that is "but" an exercise in protein folding : "how do I fold a protein so it runs my thinking algorithm ?", even if it's much harder than the current questions being asked.

    And if said AI wanted to create new weapons against humans, here's a quote from the article :

    Pande explains that this is "as drug design is very hard, itâ(TM)s very easy to do more harm than good, and thatâ(TM)s one thing that we never want to see".

    It's perhaps worth mentioning that the DNA code that defines AIDS, for example, is only a couple of thousand basepairs long, well within reach of this program.

    Like most research worth pursuing, it's very, very not-buzzword-compliant, and conceivably unbelievably dangerous. Even something "undeniably good" like fusion research produces (tiny amounts of) long-lived high-radioactive waste due to a process called activation.

  • by goombah99 ( 560566 ) on Monday June 15, 2009 @10:06AM (#28334681)

    The main difference between folding at home and roestta@ home is that folding at home studies molecular dynamics-- the science of how proteins vibrate and move while rosetta actually goes after protein structure itself directly. As a result Rosetta can fold proteins with millions of times less computation.

  • by ID000001 ( 753578 ) on Monday June 15, 2009 @12:54PM (#28336947)
    Keep a few things in mind:

    1) A good potion of the computing power for folding@home, are from PS3, which, according to study, are one of the most efficient CPU design along the top500.

    2) Computer or Console that are running Folding@home are usually power on anyway. While increasing it's CPU utilization, the actual increased electricity use are likely lower then, say, a dedicated server just for folding.

    3) It is very spread out, instead of everything running in a data center, everyone runs one at their home. Think of this as some kinda "heatsink" so less power are used to keep this system cool down, compare to, say, concentrated computing power in the same location.

    4) It operate on many electricity grids. When it is ran across the global, it put less strain on forcing certain power plant to runs at higher capacity. I don't know if this make it more or less power efficient, but it would put less strain on individual power grid.

    5) It give everyone a chance to contribute. They have a common enemies that killed many of their relative. They fight together, by themselve or in team. They keep people motivated on something. That count for something, right?

In the realm of scientific observation, luck is granted only to those who are prepared. - Louis Pasteur