By Leora Kronenberg
When we look at pictures of how a protein looks on a molecular level, we are looking at snapshots of the protein. In reality, proteins move around in ways we can’t fully see from a picture, so we rely on computer simulations to see how they fold and unfold. Yet, building a computer simulation for a moving protein is very difficult, since each part of the protein moves in such an individual way. It takes years to code one second of a protein’s movement because of its complexity.
That’s where Folding@home comes in. Based in Washington University School of Medicine, Folding@home is a volunteer based organization that simulates folding and movements of protein. Anyone who signs up can download the software on their own computer and code for a very tiny, specific part of the protein, which gets put together in the end to form the bigger picture. It’s like the world’s biggest supercomputer, making protein movements that would take hundreds of years to code possible to see on a computer screen today.
Folding@home started because the creators wanted to see the movements of the Ebola Virus. They were looking for cryptic pockets in the protein in order to kill it. Cryptic pockets are openings in a protein that one could bind drugs to in order to denature it. Using the power of a volunteer base, they were able to find some, which has been useful in finding a cure. Folding@home has also been instrumental in SARS-COV-2 research. People want to help in times of crisis, so it’s volunteer database is only growing. Folding@home is now the most powerful supercomputer in the world. Using that power, they made breakthroughs in how the proteins on the coronavirus functions.
For more information on their research and how to sign up to volunteer, go to their website