Turning PC Users Into Anthrax Fighters

PC users have been asked to join the battle against anthrax. And the weapons they’ll wield are their own machines’ processing power and distributed computing technology.

A group of scientists and leading tech companies on Tuesday issued a global request for PC users to join the Anthrax Research Project, an international effort to speed the development of an anthrax treatment.

The Anthrax Research Project includes chipmaker Intel, software giant Microsoft, the National Foundation for Cancer Research (NFCR), the University of Oxford in England and United Devices, a distributed computing software and services provider.

Since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, five people have died and 13 others have been infected as a result of anthrax exposure through the U.S. mail.

The model for the anthrax project is a global cancer research effort led by United Devices, Intel, Oxford’s Department of Chemistry and NFCR. That project taps into the computing power of 1.3 million PCs around the world, creating a virtual supercomputer for cancer scientists to conduct molecular research.

To participate in either project, individuals can download a small screensaver here. This agent software will enable the project to harness the dormant computing power of users’ PCs. Once a computation is completed, the program sends results back to the United Devices data center and requests another “job” the next time the user connects to the Internet.

Using this distributed computing method, scientists plan to screen 3.5 billion molecular compounds against the deadly anthrax toxin.

Members of the Anthrax Research Project will make results available to the U.S. government, the United Kingdom Chief Scientist and other friendly governments.

“We continue to identify the short- and long-term benefits of distributed computing in our efforts to discover more efficient and speedy ways to identify new drug candidates,” Professor Graham Richards, scientific director of the project at Oxford, said in a statement announcing the new project. “Particularly with anthrax and other related bioterrorist threats, speed to discovery is of the essence. Without this technology and support of the coalition, there would be no other way to tackle such a tremendous task.”

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