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Video: Avast CTO interviews Folding@Home director

Grace Macej, 4 Mar 2021
Grace Macej, 4 Mar 2021

In the latest installment of our Executive Interview Series, learn how your unused computer power can fight Covid-19

In our Partnership Executive Interview Series, we explore the ingenious and groundbreaking science being fostered by our incredible partners. Our latest episode shines a light on disease research project Folding@Home, which applies the unused computational power donated by volunteers to create a supercomputer capable of calculating enormous and essential disease-fighting problems. Folding@Home Director and Co-Founder Dr. Gregory Bowman talks about the project’s origin, its boom during the pandemic, and what exactly protein folding is with Avast CTO Michal Pěchouček

Dr. Bowman helped found Folding@Home 20 years ago. In order to appreciate the distributed computer project’s mission, it’s important to understand protein folding. Proteins are strings of molecules that are responsible for everyday life functions – contracting muscles, sensing light, digesting food, etc. One bizarre function of proteins is that they can form themselves through a process called folding. This is when the string of molecules reshapes itself, thus creating a new protein with new functions. 

Scientists don’t yet fully understand the mechanics of protein folding. What defines the dominant part of the molecular structure? How does the folding physically occur? And after a protein folds, does it still have movable parts? These are only some of the unanswered questions driving researchers, and the closer we come to the answers, the closer we get to solving some major medical problems. Viruses are proteins, and the drugs and vaccines that fight viruses contain proteins. 

Folding@Home allows anyone to donate their computer power to the greater good by becoming part of a supercomputer that calculates protein dynamics. The website even makes it fun for the power donors by gamifying the experience so that they can earn points and compete against fellow “explorers.” In our interview, Dr. Bowman tells Michal that Folding@Home was holding steady with about 30,000 participants before the pandemic, but once the U.S. went into lockdown mode, participation rose to half a million volunteers. 

Naturally, the project is focused on learning more about SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus variant behind Covid-19, but the organization’s work also impacts  cancer research, Alzheimer’s disease, and more. Watch the interview below, where Michal asks Dr. Bowman about the project’s challenges, its successes, its utility of AI, and how Avast can help.

If you missed the other videos in this series, catch up by watching our interviews with Richard Perlotto at Shadowserver and Susie Hargreaves at IWF.