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A project requiring as many as 12,000 years of computer processing time has just been accomplished in under 2 years thanks to the power of distributed computing.
The "Discovering Dengue Drugs - Together" project, which is part of the "World Community Grid" just completed Phase 1 of its effort, and it is a testament to the projects such as BOINC which allow for people to donate their computer's idle processing time to accomplish immensely complex tasks in astonishingly short periods.
The "Discovering Dengue Drugs - Together" aims to develop drugs for a vast number of diseases, as stated in their announcement:
"Completing this project is a significant contribution to the research of Dengue Fever, Hepatitis C, West Nile, Yellow Fever and other diseases caused by the Flaviviridea family of viruses. This same research would have taken 205 years to complete on the computers that the researchers from UTMB had available to them in 2007."
The first phase served as a screening process for over 3 million "drug-like" chemicals, and the second phase will perform more in-depth analysis of the drugs shortlisted in the first phase. The final much shortened list will then be tested in labs. As one can imagine it is impossible to test millions of chemicals in the lab, and this project once complete will be of great help.
The World Community Grid is a philanthropic project which aims to create a gird of computers to solve the complicated research problems. The project does research into issues such as a search for an AIDS cure, and antivirals for influenza (such as the H1N1 strain prevalent right now). The project runs on the BOINC (Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing) client which allows you to attach your computer to multiple projects besides the World Community Grid ranging from the SETI, for finding extraterrestrial life, to the Folding@Home project which discovers causes for protein misfolding.
In these projects the great amount of the data that needs to be processed is distributed amongst the participants who download the BOINC client. By downloading the data and the project's data processing software, the BOINC client runs the research on your very own computer and returns the processed results to the researchers.
By utilizing the millions of low-powered normal computers instead of a few supercomputers, the projects can get results much faster, and can think of performing much more complicated and data intensive research. Using this kind of distributed power has resulted in some projects such as Folding@Home to get as many as much 7 Penta FLOPS!
Signing up for these projects is simple, and instructions can be found on the BOINC website.