Declaring war against pathogens

#OpenZika project: Help IBM’s World Community Grid fight the Zika virus

Gabriela Motroc
Blood sample positive with Zika virus image via Shutterstock

IBM’s World Community Grid has recently launched the #OpenZika project. The platform which encourages volunteers to turn their personal computers and Android mobile phones and tablets already has the support of roughly 750,000 people, as well as 470 institutions across 80 nations. In short, all you need to do is download an app and allow researchers to (quietly) run calculations on your devices.

After [email protected], a scientific experiment that uses Internet-connected computers in the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, convinced an impressive number of people to run a free program that downloads and analyzes radio telescope data, it’s IBM’s time to keep volunteers busy. The giant has partnered with scientists for a global study which uses supercomputing power to discover prospective drug candidates to find a cure for the Zika virus (there is currently no vaccine or cure against this virus).

The OpenZika project allows World Community Grid to power virtual experiments on compounds that could form the basis of antiviral drugs to cure the Zika virus. According to Carolina Horta Andrade, Ph.D., adjunct professor at the Federal University of Goiás in Brazil and the lead researcher on the OpenZika project,”enlisting the help of World Community Grid volunteers will enable us to computationally evaluate over 20 million compounds in just the initial phase and potentially up to 90 million compounds in future phases.”

What’s your contribution?

World Community Grid turns people’s devices into explorers. They choose a research area, download a toolkit called BOINC and allow their devices to do research calculations when they are idle. Volunteers have a chance to help scientist get results in months instead of decades by (just) using their devices as they do every day.

When you become a World Community Grid volunteer, you donate your device’s spare computing power to help scientists solve the world’s biggest problems in health and sustainability.

World Community Grid also claims that the app is unobtrusive —hence it will not slow you down. “Our software monitors your device’s performance, so whatever you are doing on your device, it stays out of the way.”

What’s in it for IBM?

IBM created World Community Grid in 2004 to address researchers’ critical need for supercomputing power. World Community Grid, which is partially hosted on the company’s SoftLayer cloud technology, provides massive amounts of supercomputing power to scientists, free of charge, by harnessing the unused computing power of volunteers’ computers and Android devices. Over three million personal computers and mobile devices have contributed virtual supercomputing power for over two dozen projects on World Community Grid over the last 11 years, at a value of over $500 million.

IBM Research announced in mid-May a new breakthrough macromolecule that could help prevent deadly virus infections with a unique triple-play mechanism that can also help prevent viral drug resistance. The research is believed to be a first of its kind in fighting viral diseases and IBM Watson, along with such experimental breakthroughs, could help further accelerate drug discovery.

Gabriela Motroc
Gabriela Motroc was editor of and JAX Magazine. Before working at Software & Support Media Group, she studied International Communication Management at the Hague University of Applied Sciences.

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