Coronavirus – Science at Home

The single most useful thing you can do to help fight the Coronavirus is to follow advice on self-isolating, social distancing and washing your hands.

But there is also a more practical thing you can do, running distributed computing programs.

Folding @ Home and Rosetta @ Home

Folding @ Home is a distributed computing program you can run on your home computer which simulates protein folding at the molecular level. It is run by Stanford university.

Rosetta @ Home works out the final state of proteins, allowing scientists to work out how they work. It runs on the BOINC platform managed by UC Berkeley.

Proteins

Proteins are the building blocks of life and how they fold into different shapes determine what they do. Cells in your body communicate using them and use them to build and repair your body.

Viruses (like Coronavirus) have proteins on the outside of them which trick your cells into letting them in (by looking like useful proteins the cells need), then they take over and use the cell to reproduce.

Your immune system creates proteins to latch onto viruses and other foreign objects in your body to prevent them from interacting with your cells. Knowing what shapes interact with each other requires understanding the final state a protein folds into. This is what Rosetta does. Rosetta was able to accurately predict the final state of the Coronavirus proteins weeks before they could be properly measured in the lab.

Other diseases, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, are caused by defects in certain proteins. Understanding exactly how they fold and at which points they can go wrong is the research the Folding @ Home performs. Understanding the ways proteins fold can also help discover new way to bind drugs to them which aren’t obvious from the final folded state.

Antivirals and Vaccines

Kurzgesagt has some brilliant videos on the immune system here, here and one on Coronavirus specifically here.

To create an effective vaccine a virus has to be weakened so it won’t make people sick (or at least only mildly sick). However, it still needs to resemble the original virus, otherwise the immune system won’t create the correct anti-bodies to fight it.

Antiviral drugs work in a similar way to your immune system. Latching onto the virus and making its attack method ineffective. For those with weak immune systems fighting Coronavirus, it could make all the difference.

Understanding a virus is the only way in the long run to effectively fight it. By donating spare computational power to projects like these you can help stop Coronavirus faster.

 

 

 

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