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Spare a little computing power to fight malaria

The GO Fight Against Malaria campaign, set up by Scripps Research and IBM, uses spare computing power from millions of PCs around the world to perform simulations.

Members of the GO Fight Against Malaria team.
Scripps Research Institute

After IBM's Watson computing system defeated two human competitors on Jeopardy this year, it partnered with the nonprofit Scripps Research Institute to direct the tournament prize money toward finding a cure for drug-resistant malaria.

Now all the team is asking for is a little help from around the globe. It's using the World Community Grid, described as a "supercomputer of the people," to use spare computing power from volunteered PCs.

Since the Grid was set up seven years ago, some 575,000 people in more than 80 countries have donated spare computing power from nearly 2 million PCs, directing their computers to perform small assignments when the devices are not being used--the results of which are analyzed by scientists.

The Grid has already been used to discover two promising means of treating multi-drug-resistant AIDS, and is now taking on the GO Fight Against Malaria project.

Scripps researchers say they are hoping to compress 100 years of computations necessary for the effort into one year by evaluating millions of compounds that could advance the development of drugs to cure mutant, drug-resistant strains of malaria.

While some drugs and vaccines help prevent or treat certain strains of malaria, nothing prevents or treats all strains. Plasmodium falciparum, the most lethal malaria parasite, is of particular interest.

Malaria kills some 1 million people annually, 85 percent of whom are children. It is the leading cause of death in children under the age of 5 in Africa. A few hundred million people are newly infected every year, according to the World Health Organization, and in some places malaria accounts for up to 40 percent of public health expenditures.

To volunteer your computer for the research project, you must first register it and then install free software that captures your computer's spare power when it is on but idle.