Winthrop University: Winthrop Joins Folding@home Project
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Winthrop Joins Folding@home Project

April 21, 2020

HIGHLIGHTS

  • The university will allow its academic computer labs, as well as ones from its esports program, to be accessed remotely as part of the Folding@home (FAH) project.
  • The Washington University project is currently using computers throughout the world to find drug pathways to kill the virus that causes the disease.

ROCK HILL, SOUTH CAROLINA - Winthrop University has donated remote use of some of its technology to a global effort to combat COVID-19.

The university will allow its academic computer labs, as well as ones from its esports program, to be accessed remotely as part of the Folding@home (FAH) project. The Washington University project is currently using computers throughout the world to find drug pathways to kill the virus that causes the disease.

Winthrop officials said joining the network was an easy decision. Winthrop’s computers aren’t being used as much due to the campus being closed. That idling allowed the university to convert its computers for use to assist the FAH project.

“By lending our computing power to this huge project, it’s a small way of helping an overall effort,” said Maria Arrington-Ferguson, director of technology services. “The computers are on, and we might as well use them for something positive.”

The computer simulations are usually timed for when the user sleeps, but with universities, including Winthrop, relying on remote learning during the pandemic, on-campus machines are idle all day.

The FAH project uses molecular protein folding computer simulations, which take huge amounts of computing power.

Protein folding is the process that determines a protein’s structure, and therefore its functionality. The shapes protein subunits form fit together like LEGOs to create new cells. Sometimes, when you are trying to build something specific, only one particular shape of subunit will work.

If the body’s proteins aren’t folding into the necessary shapes, this can have detrimental health effects. For example, in the case of sickle-cell anemia, the protein inside red blood cells—hemoglobin—is not capable of transporting oxygen due to a single amino acid change in the hemoglobin protein structure.

Now, Folding@home is seeking similar weaknesses within the coronavirus’ proteins—looking for structures that could be altered to inhibit the virus’ ability to infect the body.

The goal is to find a drug pathway that can cause a dysfunction in the folding of one or more proteins in the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which could kill it. Extra computer power from around the world is needed for faster, more precise simulations. 

The more simulations the computers try, the better the chances of finding one that works.

Winthrop Team

There are approximately 260,000 teams involved in the FAH project, ranked according to their computers’ output. After its initial few days Winthrop was ranked at 60,000 and now has moved up to about 15,000, said Caroline Overcash, director of risk management and general counsel.

She encourages the public to offer up idle computing time and join the Winthrop team by searching for its team name: Fold 'em Winthrop Wings and its team number of 260865. Winthrop’s profile may be found at https://stats.foldingathome.org/team/260865.

Visit https://www.winthrop.edu/innovation/folding-at-home.aspx for more information.

Winthrop esports

The esports computers have the processing power needed for the project, and now that the first season is completed, they are ready to become a source for community engagement, outreach and philanthropy.

The esports team uses PC computers - Intel Core i7 8700 processors and Geforce RTX 2070 graphics cards for its two teams, League of Legends and Overwatch. Joshua Sides, the esports coach, said: “I think it's great that our PCs can be utilized toward combating the Covid-19 pandemic. We all have to do our part and I’m glad that esports can assist as part of the Winthrop community in any way we can.”

For more information, contact Judy Longshaw, news and media services manager, at longshawj@winthrop.edu.

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Last Updated: 10/4/21