Computer downtime could solve world hunger

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IBM hopes to eradicate world hunger using donated processing power to study the atomic make-up of rice protein.

The firm says it will harness 167 teraflops, equivalent to a top-three supercomputer, to the "Nutritious Rice for the World" project using the World Community Grid which uses unused and donated power from nearly one million individual PCs.

“The world is experiencing three simultaneous revolutions: in molecular biology and genetics; in computational power and storage capacity; and in communications. The computational revolution allows scientists around the world to tackle almost unimaginably complex problems as a community, and in real-time,” said Director General Robert Zeigler, of the Philippines based International Rice Research Institute.

“While there are no silver bullets, rice production can be revitalised with the help of new technologies. The world community must invest now and for a long time to come.”

A three-dimensional modeling programme has been created by computational biologists at the University of Washington to study the structures of the proteins that make up the building blocks of rice. Understanding the structure is necessary to identify the function of those proteins and to enable researchers to identify which ones could help produce more rice grains, ward off pests, resist disease or hold more nutrients.

In the end, this project will create the largest and most comprehensive map of rice proteins and their related functions, helping agriculturalists and farmers pinpoint which plants should be selected for cross-breeding to cultivate better crops.

“The issue is that there are between 30,000 and 60,000 different protein structures to study,” said Principal Investigator, Dr. Ram Samudrala,Associate Professor in the Department of Microbiology at the University of Washington.
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