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Folding@Home: saves your screen. Saves lives

July 18, 2006

I know, it's enough to make you shudder. Can you scream dork any louder?

You don't need a screensaver. You left them behind years ago; you simply blank your screen. Save a few watts. Black is its own statement.

And yet, shouldn't you own your status as über-geek? Proclaim your prowess, impress or disgust your significant other, and overwhelm your colleagues, all while benefiting the rest of humankind?

Folding@Home display

Folding@Home ( may initially evince a techie-tacky almost-cool (ever want to build those complex-looking molecules you saw pictured in high-school chemistry books?) but it is more than that. Much more.

Folding@Home fights disease. Solves complex protein and RNA folding problems - how things work, and how they fail - by divvying up the task. Folding even the simplest proteins involves incredible amounts of processing time - and no single supercomputer can handle more than a small number of them. Yet most of us have home machines that far exceed the power of most of the supercomputers of the past, and that continue to escalate year-by-year in ability. Thus, the simple idea of distributed computing. Your CPU's unused computer cycles, i.e. time spent on breaks, for meals, systems left on overnight, even your unused processor capacity as you type text into Microsoft Word, can be directed to chew on such problems.

Folding@Home consists of a small (under 2 MB) client that runs on your machine, in the background. It is doing so as I write, quietly grinding away at work-unit 196 of 400, automatically downloaded about a week ago after submitting the results of the previous batch. And when it is done, Folding@Home will simply look for, and download the next.

While Folding@Home is a Stanford University creation, the answers it generates belong to all of us - not some patent-wielding biotech. Thus, if your efforts help unravel a crucial component of a specific cancer pathway - the information falls in the public domain, and every company with the know-how can forge forward with their potential solution. Not just the one that came up with this piece of information, and who might never see a solution realized. Folding@Home offers an infinite number of potential answers, at zero additional cost (if your computer was on, anyways).

fspeptide Since October 1, 2000, over 1,000,000 CPUs have collaboratively tackled what no single computer ever could. Thus far, Folding@Home has targetted such proteins as
  • Staphyloccal protein A; important to our immune response to this very common bacterial pathogen
  • Engrailed Homeodomain mutants: involved in many diseases, including cancers
  • p53 tumor suppressor protein: implicated in over 50% of human cancers
  • amyloid beta proteins: Alzheimer's
  • SH3 protein-peptide interactions: Alzheimer's

Thus far, fourty papers have been published. Papers on Alzheimer's, Huntington's disease, collagen formation, and ribosomal RNA structure are among those currently in process.

Folding@Home can be configured to work the way you want it to (i.e., no deadline-sensitive work units, percentage of CPU time you're willing to allow it to access).

And if you despise screen savers, okay. Disable the screensaver. But if you have CPU cycles to spare (if you're reading this article, very likely you do), then please consider running Folding@Home on your system, as well. Download it from

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