Folding@home crowdsourced computing project passes 1 million downloads amid coronavirus research

Folding@home software for donating compute for medical research passed 1 million downloads, director Greg Bowman said in a tweet today. The Folding@home Consortium is made up of 11 laboratories around the world studying the molecular structure of diseases like cancer, ALS, and influenza. Research into COVID-19 started earlier this month. The crowdsourced effort is now powered by hundreds of thousands of Nvidia GPUs and tens of thousands of AMD GPUs.

According to an Nvidia blog post about the milestone, nearly 400,000 gamers donated GPUs to the effort in recent days.

Last week, Folding@home said it crossed the one exaflop in compute power milestone, or collectively larger than any supercomputer ever assembled. By comparison, the Summit supercomputer at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee has repeatedly ranked first in Top500 supercomputing ranks and is able to muster 148 petaflops of compute power.

The compute is being used to simulate “potentially druggable protein targets” and understand how the virus that causes COVID-19 interacts with the ACE2 receptor, according to the Folding@home website.

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“While we will rapidly release the simulation datasets for others to use or analyze, we aim to look for alternative conformations and hidden pockets within the most promising drug targets, which can only be seen in simulation and not in static X-ray structures,” organizer John Chodera said in a March 10 blog post to launch a series of protein folding projects into production.

In another recent initiative at the intersection of gaming and medical research, earlier this month the University of Washington introduced FoldIt, a puzzle to solve protein folding challenges. In work at the intersection of protein folding and AI, Google’s DeepMind released predictions of understudied proteins associated with SARS-CoV-2 generated by the latest version of AlphaFold.

A number of open source projects are underway to accelerate progress toward a cure. Cloud computing providers in China like Alibaba, Baidu, and Tencent, as well as AWS, Google Cloud, and Azure in the U.S. are also lending compute to researchers. The CORD-19 data set is made up of tens of thousands of scholarly works and was made available last week for both medical and NLP researchers by a group including Microsoft Research, the Allen AI Institute, and the White House.

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