Now You Can Fight Coronavirus on Your Smartphone or Raspberry Pi

Coronavirus particles (orange) emerging from a cell in culture.

Those wanting to throw a little extra computing power at the battle against SARS-CoV-2 have an invitation to do so courtesy of the Rosetta@Home project.

We talked about Rosetta a bit in an earlier story about Folding@Home. Rosetta’s strength is its ability to compute protein design and predict protein structures, while Folding@Home focuses specifically on how proteins fold (or misfold). The two projects have collaborated together in the past.

BOINC has updated its Android application and added support for 64-bit Linux ARM distributions in order to bring the Raspberry Pi into the fold, according to Tom’s Hardware.

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Now, the absolute amount of performance available from any single Raspberry Pi or smartphone is quite low — obviously only a fraction of what you can generate on a desktop. There are, however, an estimated 3.5B smartphones on Earth and 30 million Raspberry Pi(e)s. That’s still a healthy chunk of potential computing power, even if it’s distributed across a lot more devices.

Here’s how the Rosetta team describes its own work on Covid-19:

With the recent COVID-19 outbreak, R@h has been used to predict the structure of proteins important to the disease as well as to produce new, stable mini-proteins to be used as potential therapeutics and diagnostics, like the one displayed above which is bound to part of the COVID-19 spike protein… We will be using the massive amounts of compute power available on R@h to sample every amino acid at every position at the interface. We will then pick the best combinations of amino acids using simulated annealing and Monte-Carlo. Sampling is key for this process and this is why we turn to R@h.

The Rosetta network is much smaller than Folding@Home’s, so if you’re wanting to make an impact on a smaller project, this would be a very solid alternative. Regardless, it’s been thrilling to see how people have pulled together to analyze and understand SARS-CoV-2.

While there’s no guarantee that anything will come from Rosetta or Folding@Home’s efforts, donating spare CPU or GPU cycles is one of the best things you can do from your own home. I don’t know that many people are taking advantage of the pandemic to build computers at home given the economic aspects of this disaster, but if you’ve got some old parts in a box, putting them back together to crunch data for Folding or Rosetta is a worthy way to spend a few hours. It’s possible that driving dramatically more compute power to both projects will allow them to increase the detail level or complexity of the underlying simulations in ways that are more helpful to finding a treatment than the less-accurate, less compute-intensive methods would be.

While not much good can be said to have come out of this pandemic, throwing an unprecedented amount of computing power at one single virus could produce breakthroughs that would have otherwise taken much longer to find.

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