Competition makes the world go round, and competition is what drives the continuing success of the Folding@home (or F@h) distributed computing project, as well as other similar initiatives such as Rosetta@home. Few people are naturally given to rush towards charitable giving - even when it costs them next to nothing - but how the crowds flock to donate when giving things away is presented as a contest! The F@h project uses spare processing cycles donated from volunteers' home computers to solve tough problems in protein folding, one small block of calculations at a time. These are computational simulations that would tie up a supercomputer for a very long time, and at an unfeasibly high cost, but the millions of volunteers and their spare processing cycles constitute a supercomputer in a class of its own.
With leaderboards and public ranking in place, and essentially no barrier to joining in and competing, teams and rivalries quickly formed in the early days of the F@h project. In the years since launch, an entire cottage industry has sprung up to record, inspire, and serve the community that competes to see how much processing power can be donated to this cause. Competition makes the world go round. Never forget that.
Why is protein folding important? A better understanding of how proteins fold can lead to progress in a wide range of diseases, and back in the day I started up the Longevity Meme F@h team because neurodegenerative diseases of aging, such as Alzheimer's disease (AD), were high on the F@h organizers' priority list:
AD is caused by the aggregation of relatively small (42 amino acid) proteins, called Abeta peptides. These proteins form aggregates which even in small clumps appear to be toxic to neurons and cause neuronal cell death involved in Alzheimer's Disease and the horrible neurodegenerative consequences.
We have many calculations being performed on AD. Our primary goals are the prediction of AD aggregate structure for rational drug design approaches as well as further insight into how AD aggregates form kinetically (hopefully paving the way for a method to stop the AD aggregate formation).
The Longevity Meme F@h team might have remained a small affair of a few dozen folk, just like thousands of other teams - certainly I had no world-spanning ambitions for it at that point. But a few persistent and highly effective organizers from the Immortality Institute took it upon themselves to grow the team relentlessly; in the years of their involvement, they have made a real success of this contest:
Since the humble days back in June of 2005 when Jeffery Festa suggested that life extension advocates pool their collective computing muscle and fold for The Longevity Meme team (TLM, #32641), few other folding teams have shown such persistent improvement and high level of participtation. Four years ago TLM was at rank 617 in the world, had 55 members, and was averaging 2,500 points per day (PPD). At its height in early 2009 TLM had nearly 100 contributors per day (over 400 total members), cranked out a bit over 300,000 PPD, and rose to rank 70! The team routinely had 25% of members folding on any particular day, much higher than the 10% or less of most teams. To this day TLM continues forging ahead.
The team was helped along, in part, by the establishment of the F@H Prize in early 2008. Visionaries such as Reason, The Immortality Institute, Life Extension Foundation, and Maciek Kolodziejczyk helped establish and fund the Prize. Special recognition must go out to Imminst member DNAmechanic for detailed record-keeping throughout the years and to all the Imminst volunteers who helped folders get started and set them folding to the maximum extent possible. Folding@home is a long-term project of basic science (protein folding) that requires contributions small and large from millions of volunteers. The eventual pay-off will be a greater understanding of human biology and the processes that lead to human diseases and attendant suffering. Everyone who folds should be proud of their individual and team efforts. Keep folding for the future!
That the Longevity Meme F@h team today consists of hundreds of members and is ranked 70th in the world is entirely to the Immortality Institute volunteers' credit. If renaming of teams was permitted, I would have long ago changed the name to reflect the source of its success.
What are you waiting for? Get folding!