Scientists are working with computer nerds to find a cure for smallpox using screen savers. Their idea is to use the idle processing power of 2 million personal computers to look through millions of molecular combinations in hopes of finding one that fights smallpox. Although we have a smallpox vaccine, it can have serious side effects, and there's no cure once you have the disease. To volunteer, download a screen saver that will run whenever your computer has memory to spare. When it connects to the Internet, your computer will send data back to a central hub. The combined power of 2 million personal computers is 30 times more than the fastest supercomputer. The same technique has been used to search for signs of extraterrestrial life.
"Bioterrorism agents are funny animals because you can't test them on people," says Edward Hubbard, of United Devices, which designed the smallpox program. That's why computers are needed for the fight. The average drug takes about 15 years and $800 million to develop, and much of that time and money is spent searching for the right compound to experiment on. PC power can reduce the time this takes. It's hoped that the computers can reduce the 35 million possible molecules down to about 300,000 for testing, ranked in order of promise. Scientists will then start testing them the normal way, using test tubes and petri dishes to experiment on the top 50 candidates.
This field of fired-up computers reminds us that there?s a hidden energy that binds us all together.
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