Fighting Zika one smartphone at a time

The World Community Grid is seeking your device's processing power to combat the Zika virus(Credit: Sceenshot by Michael Franco/Gizmag)

IBM's World Community Grid (WCG) is a program that links the processing power of the phones, tablets and computers of ordinary citizens to tackle world health problems like tuberculosis and cancer. To date the program has supported 27 different research projects, and is now setting its sights on the Zika virus.

Grid computing is a system in which the processors in everyday electronics are used when the devices are idle, to execute computations. It's kind of a like a giant supercomputer spread out around the world. To help fight Zika, the WCG is using this method of computing to "run virtual experiments on compounds that could form the basis of antiviral drugs to cure the Zika virus, which has been linked to serious neurological disorders," says the organization. The initiative is called the OpenZika project.

"The project will screen compounds from existing molecule databases against models of Zika protein and crystal structures with dramatically more speed than possible in a traditional lab," says a press release. "Screening results will quickly be shared with the research community and general public. Promising compounds would then be tested in the collaborators' laboratories."

The WCG is asking for interested individuals to sign up and donate use of their Android phones and tablets or any computer system to help with the process. To do so, the first step is to visit the WCG's website (linked below) to sign up for an account.

The group points out that the system only uses your devices when your own usage of them is low, so throwing your processors into the mix shouldn't slow down their performance. For Android users, the app will allow parameters to be set, so you can indicate when you want to donate time to the project, such as only when the device is charging, overnight, or when it has a specific quantity of juice in its battery.

"Enlisting the help of World Community Grid volunteers will enable us to computationally evaluate over 20 million compounds in just the initial phase and potentially up to 90 million compounds in future phases," said OpenZika lead researcher Carolina H. Andrade from Brazil's Federal University of Goiás. "Running the OpenZika project on World Community Grid will allow us to greatly expand the scale of our project, and it will accelerate the rate at which we can obtain the results toward an antiviral drug for the Zika virus."

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