Project goal: understanding genomes

The Human Genome Project is nearing completion, and scientists are working hard to develop the understanding needed to use this wealth of genetic information in ways that will be significant to medicine and humankind. One of the most important ways to do this is to study the other genomes and individual gene sequences that are already available to us. By understanding how these genomes work, we will be able to put the huge amounts of data (over 50, 000 genes and 3 billion nucleotide base pairs) from the Human Genome Project into biological and medical context, giving it real meaning.

Proteins, the molecular products encoded by genomes, are the functional units of all cellular machinery. Our partner project, Folding@home, is striving to understand how existing proteins attain their specific, functional three-dimensional structures. The goal of Genome@home is to design new genes that can form working proteins in the cell. Genome@home uses a computer algorithm (SPA), based on the physical and biochemical rules by which genes and proteins behave, to design new proteins (and hence new genes) that have not been found in nature. By comparing these "virtual genomes" to those found in nature, we can gain a much better understanding of how natural genomes have evolved and how natural genes and proteins work. Some important applications of the Genome@home virtual genome protein design database:

  • engineering new proteins for medical therapy

  • designing new pharmaceuticals

  • assigning functions to the dozens of new genes being sequenced every day

  • understanding protein evolution

As you can probably guess by now, designing just one new gene sequence is already computationally demanding. To design hundreds of new sequences for hundreds of proteins, literally thousands of computers are needed.

(See Scientific background for more details about genomes, proteins, how proteins and genes are related).

How you can help

To design these large numbers of protein sequences, we need lots of computers. By running the Genome@home protein sequence design client, you can lend us your computer while you're not using it, for as long or as little as you like. It simply runs alongside your other programs and does its calculations in the unused cpu time while you're away from your desk, or even while you're working on your computer. You won't notice a loss of speed, and your computer will work as usual. All you see is a small window that shows you the protein sequences you're designing. If you don't want to look at it, just minimize the window and move it to a corner of your desktop. A day or two's worth of running Genome@home is enough to design new protein sequences that the world has never seen before. All the sequences get added to the Genome@home database, so every little bit helps.