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Citizen science project aims to unlock mysteries of the genome

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The earliest citizen science websites were undoubtedly the various distributed computing projects that emerged around the turn of the millennium.  What began with Seti@Home quickly blossomed into a range of projects looking at everything from protein folding to predicting climate change.

They have grown to the extent that there are now over 50 projects that rely on the computing power of our personal computers to help a variety of research projects that require a huge amount of grunt.

The latest was launched recently, and is being hosted on IBM’s World Community Grid.  The Uncovering Genome Mysteries project claims to be able to speed up microbial research by around 40,000 years.  The hope is that the worlds combined computing power will help researchers to unlock some of the secrets of marine microbes from around the world.

The belief is that if we begin to understand some of the genetic similarities between microbes, it could lead to a variety of advances for mankind, from new medicines to better crop technologies.

The project has some seriously lofty goals, with the plan being to make some 20 quadrillion comparisons of over 200 million proteins within organisms that are invisible to the human eye.  The researchers suggest that doing this on a single PC would take around 40,000 years, yet they hope it will be achieved in just a few months due to the army of citizen scientists they hope to enroll.

“Anyone with a computer, smartphone or tablet can join and help to give us the computational power to carry out our microbe research,” says Professor Torsten Thomas, one of the crowdsourced project’s leaders.

Eventually the team hope that the project will generate an open access database of the various protein comparisons made by the combined computing power.  This will then aid researchers in the discovery of new enzymatic functions and further understanding into how organisms interact, both with the environment and with each other.

You can learn more about the project via the video below, or start participating here.

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