A couple of weeks ago we learned about a new game called Foldit, developed by researchers at the University of Washington, that could help with the development of a treatment for the Covid-19 coronavirus. Essentially, players solve puzzles by folding protein chains into new shapes that change the function of the protein, with points awarded based on the effectiveness of the solution. Researchers can then experiment on those folded proteins in order to determine their usefulness in the real world.
If that game doesn't appeal to you, but you happen to be sitting beside an expensive, powerful PC that's not really doing anything, why not let it handle the task for you?
In Foldit you have to work for a spot on that leaderboard, but through Folding@home, you can put your PC to work. Folding@home is a distributed computing project founded by Stanford University in 2000 that uses idle PCs around the world for medical research, including the coronavirus pandemic.
The way it works, essentially, is that protein data is broken up into work units, which are then downloaded automatically by the Folding software. Your PC crunches away on it until the work unit is complete, at which point the result is uploaded to the server. A new work unit is downloaded, and the process starts again. As a weak but thematically appropriate analogy, it's a bit like Team Fortress 2, except extraordinarily slow, it's nothing but bots, and the whole world is playing in the same match.
The @PCGamer community have a @foldingathome team!#Foldingathome is battling #COVID19 by simulating dynamics of #coronavirus proteins so scientists can discover (not yet found) potentially druggable pockets and you can help.👍 https://t.co/5X0JsRvd7y pic.twitter.com/4hCtBOaHapMarch 18, 2020
You can fold by yourself (and bravo for doing your bit) but these things are always more fun when you're part of a team—such as the PC Gamer Folding@home Team. The setup instructions might look a little intimidating but it's actually quite simple, and once you're rolling it's entirely automated, although you can tweak various settings, like how much processing power to dedicate and whether or not you want it to work while you're using your PC.
If you do run into problems or have any questions with Folding@home, or just feel like chatting, the PC Gamer forum thread linked above can help out. The Folding website is struggling a little bit right now, but once it's squared away you'll be able to following along with the team's progress here.
We're maintaining a roundup of esports competitions and other gaming events that have been impacted by the coronavirus outbreak that you can keep up with here. For more information on the Covid-19 coronavirus, visit the Centers for Disease Control for updates in North America, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, or the World Health Organization.
This is what it looks like when proteins fold.