Southeast’s EDvolution Center Supporting COVID-19 Research Via Folding@Home


Computers in the EDvolution Center at Southeast Missouri State University are leveraging their power to contribute to COVID-19 research as part of the Folding@Home initiative.

“Southeast Missouri State University has responded to the COVID-19 crisis in multiple ways,” said Jana Gerard, Center coordinator. “The EDvolution Center continues to 3D print face masks and face shields for the community, and we are proud to add to Southeast Missouri State University’s efforts through Folding@Home which supports disease research.”

The Folding@Home initiative began with Johns Hopkins University and is now housed at Washington University in St. Louis.

Southeast graduate student Allan DeYong, who serves as a Graduate Assistant in the EDvolution Center, brought the Folding@Home idea to Gerard’s attention.

“I read about Folding@Home back in February when the virus was just beginning to arrive in the U.S., and since I have a lot of (personal) computers, some of which are very powerful, I decided it would be a good use of them to let them work for the project while I’m not using them. It is common for a single user or entity to give the project access to multiple computers,” said DeYong, who is pursuing a master’s degree in in higher education administration and will graduate in May 2021.

“It is a great way to put idle computers to work for a cause that is incredibly important, enabling people to contribute in a meaningful way with minimal financial impact to themselves (only the cost of electricity and barely any Internet usage), and without the need for any special skills,” he said. “Literally anyone with a computer and basic Internet access can very easily contribute.”

He added, “When the University closed its campus, it occurred to me that the EDvolution Center has several powerful computers that would otherwise sit idle when they could be working against the virus, so I asked Jana if we could put them to work while we are all away. We got permission from IT (Information Technology) and got our folding underway.”

Gerard said that with the permission of Dr. Joe Pujol, dean of the College of Education, Health and Human Studies, and Floyd Davenport, director of Information Technology, Southeast recently joined in the project. Folding@Home software has now been installed on seven EDvolution Center computers that are currently running disease research calculations through automated processes. As a participant in the effort, the EDvolution Center is helping break down large research tasks into small chunks on their “volunteer” computers so disease research can happen more quickly.

An April article from “Science Alert” indicated that Folding@Home surpassed 700,000 users and became, collectively, more powerful than the top 500 supercomputers in the world combined. According to Folding@Home’s website, there are more than 3 million computers running their software.

Folding@Home is a distributed computing project for simulating protein dynamics, including the process of protein folding and the movements of proteins implicated in a variety of diseases. The project brings together citizen scientists who volunteer to run simulations of protein dynamics on their personal computers. Viruses have proteins that they use to suppress our immune systems and to reproduce themselves. To battle coronavirus, a better understanding is needed of how viral proteins work and how therapeutics might be designed to stop them. Insights from this data are helping scientists to better understand a number of viruses and diseases and are providing opportunities for developing therapeutic intervention, according to Folding@Home.

The initiative uses computer simulations to understand the moving parts of proteins, according to the Folding@Home website. Watching how the atoms in a protein move in relation to others is important because valuable information is captured that cannot be accessed otherwise.

“The project has been in motion since 2000,” said DeYong, who holds an undergraduate degree from Southeast in corporate communications. “It has given users the ability to choose to have their computers contribute to certain types of diseases, or the entire array of diseases that Folding@Home studies.”

Cancers, infectious diseases and neurological diseases are being researched through Folding@Home. In addition to COVID-19, also being studied are breast cancer, kidney cancer, Dengue Fever, Zika Virus, Hepatitis C, Ebola Virus, Alzheimer’s Disease, Parkinson’s Disease, Huntington’s Disease, and others.

“In 2007, they had already become the most powerful distributed computing network, even running on Playstation 3 video game consoles,” DeYong said. “They have continued to grow ever since, but have seen a drastic spike in growth in recent months after receiving publicity related to their work on COVID-19.”

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