Google Compute toolbar to unlock genes?

Google has begun an experiment that could turn its modest toolbar software into a supercomputer to tackle scientific problems such as untangling genetic codes.

Google invited 500 people to try out a new version of its toolbar that lets Windows users donate their computers' otherwise unused processing power to the Folding@home project at Stanford University.

The project seeks to figure out how genetic information is converted into proteins, complex molecules whose three-dimensional structure is key to everything from fighting off a cold to transporting oxygen around the body.

The Google Compute project illustrates how the approach to even the most ornery problems of computing science is changing. Supercomputers once were isolated, expensive systems affordable only to the likes of aerospace companies, national laboratories and well-funded universities. But all that is changing with the arrival of the Internet, omnipresent PCs and ever-faster network technology.

"The main motivations were to try to leverage Google's expertise with large computer systems and to try to give something back to science," said Susan Wojcicki, a Google product management director and the head of the Google Compute project.

Google co-founder Sergey Brin initiated the project, Wojcicki said, and people started trying the software two weeks ago. An option on Google's toolbar lets the participants in the project download the necessary software to their computer. Google is considering offering the program to a larger audience, Wojcicki added.

"From what I saw, it simply rocks!" said one enthusiastic person who sampled the software. "When I move my mouse across that little DNA icon, it tells me what protein it is folding and what percentage it has completed."

News source: ZDNet News

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View: Folding@home project at Stanford University

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