Home PCs in fight against anthrax

A special project to accelerate the hunt for a cure for anthrax by harnesses PCs around the globe using a distributed computing model.

A special project to accelerate the hunt for a cure for anthrax by harnesses PCs around the globe using a distributed computing model.

In the US, the National Foundation for Cancer Research (NFCR) has teamed up with the Centre for Computational Drug Design at England's Oxford University, Microsoft and United Devices to create a system that uses spare computer processing cycles to do the tedious analysis of anthrax molecules.

The project is modelled on last year's "Cure Cancer With Your Computer" project, which used similar distributed computing technologies. That project now involves more than 1.3 million people, who downloaded a special screen saver that allows their computers to be used by scientists far away for cancer research in off-peak times.

The anthrax project will allow a molecular library of 3.5 billion anthrax molecules to be analyzed using computers around the world. Scientist have identified a protein in anthrax that increases its toxicity and will now search for a trigger to block that protein from its deadly mission.

After the screen saver is downloaded, a program called "THINK" analyzes the anthrax protein and structures, sends the results to computer servers in Europe, then gives the individual computer another protein to analyze. United Devices is providing the servers and other hardware for the analysis work.

The project is expected to last three to six months, though research on a cure will continue after that.

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