Armchair Scientists Can Work on Medical Breakthroughs
Rosetta@home users can use the program's screen saver, which shows the program testing the energy levels of various protein structures.
Credit: University of Washington

The key to unlocking a cure for cancer might be sitting in your den or home office.

Modeled after the groundbreaking and wildly popular SETI@home project, scientists have conceived Rosetta@home to harness the power of PCs to solve basic problems in medicine.

Rosetta@home plans to use the extensive number-crunching power of computer time donated by tens of thousands of individuals to hopefully unravel basic mysteries of proteins, the building blocks of life.

Understanding how proteins form complex structures can help scientists better understand diseases such as cancer, malaria and HIV, project scientists said today.

The project is already building models of the anthrax toxin in work that could contribute to the development of treatments.

“This is a way that people from all backgrounds can now make important contributions to progress in science and medicine,” said David Baker, a biochemist at the University of Washington and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and leader of the project. “Rosetta@home seeks to solve one of the longest standing problems in molecular biology, with important implications for human health and the treatment of disease."

Through a process called distributed computing, the project will take a massive calculation, break it into chunks, and send the pieces across the Internet to be processed by PCs. Then the entire problem is re-assembled at a central computer.

A similar project is using home computers to model climate change scenarios.

More information about Rosetta@home is available here.