Special Feature
Part of a ZDNet Special Feature: Coronavirus: Business and technology in a pandemic

Cryptocurrency mining PC army joins coronavirus research project

We have priorities, and mining Ethereum is not one of them in the present climate.

Thousands of cryptocurrency mining rigs have been hauled out of Ethereum (ETH) mining pools to provide computational power to a coronavirus research project. 

As COVID-19 continues to spread, researchers are pulling out all of the stops in virus sequencing projects, protein detection, therapy development, and vaccine tests and trials.   

See also: From flu to coronavirus: Smart thermometers deployed to track the spread in real-time

One of these projects is Stanford University's Folding@home, a project surrounding the development of therapeutic drugs that may be able to alleviate -- if not cure -- the respiratory illness and its most severe symptoms. 

Folding@home has previously contributed to the development of drugs for fighting HIV, and it is hoped that the team's work in determining protein structures could be valuable in the fight against COVID-19. 

Computers able to quickly and automatically flip through protein shapes and variations are crucial. Folding@home's project involves sorting through protein structures and FDA-approved drug compounds that could inhibit or treat the illness. 

"Proteins have lots of moving parts, so we really want to see the protein in action," Folding@home says. "The structures we can't see experimentally may be the key to discovering a new therapeutic."

As reported by CoinDesk, the largest US miner on the Ethereum blockchain, CoreWeave, is lending the computational power of thousands of GPUs to the effort. 

"CoreWeave is proud to support this effort with over 6,000 of our high-end GPUs," the organization said.

GPUs, especially when combined as a distributed 'supercomputer' network, are able to handle repetitive calculations at rapid speeds. 

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CoreWeave CTO Brian Venturo told the publication that over half of the computational power currently available to Folding@home's coronavirus research team now originates from the miners, that were previously earning several thousand dollars per day. 

Other mining groups with suitable GPUs are being urged to contribute to the cause. 

In related news, Nvidia said on Thursday that the company is now providing free 90-day licenses for Parabricks, a platform based on the Genome Analysis Toolkit which provides GPU power and pipelines for research projects. Users can expect access to GPU and computational power that could improve sequence data analysis speeds beyond what researchers may be able to access on-premise. 

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Nvidia will provide the license to "any researcher in the worldwide effort to fight the novel coronavirus" and will keep an eye on the situation, with license extension a possibility. 

There are close to 246,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases across 163 countries and regions at the time of writing, according to John Hopkins' coronavirus dashboard and real-time tracker. 

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