Your Computer Can Help Find Connection Between Bacteria and Autoimmune Diseases

Your Computer Can Help Find Connection Between Bacteria and Autoimmune Diseases

The general public's help is being enlisted in what's thought to be the biggest study of the human microbiome, the bacteria that live in and on the human body, and are believed to affect health.

The Microbiome Immunity Project is a new, IBM-facilitated citizen science project by scientists from the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, Massachusetts General Hospital, University of California San Diego, and the Simons Foundation’s Flatiron Institute. It will use the surplus processing power on volunteers' computers to conduct millions of virtual experiments on behalf of the researchers.

These experiments aim to map the three million bacterial genes found in the human microbiome and predict the structure of their associated proteins. The project will begin with the analysis of the microbiome in the digestive system. The study aims to help scientists better understand the microbiome’s interaction with human biochemistry and determine how that interaction may contribute to autoimmune diseases such as Type 1 diabetes, Crohn’s disease, and ulcerative colitis.

Because studying the entire human microbiome would be almost impossible with traditional methods, massive supercomputing processing power is being crowdsourced via IBM's World Community Grid. Anyone in the world can help by simply volunteering to provide compute power. Here’s how it works: People download a secure software program that automatically detects when a computer can offer spare processing power, then taps it to run virtual experiments on behalf of researchers.

The resulting data from millions of these experiments will be analyzed by the project’s research team. The researchers will make that data publicly available to other scientists, accelerating the advancement of scientific knowledge, and ultimately improved treatments, of autoimmune diseases. Anyone with a computer and an internet connection can join and sign up to support the project.

Since its founding in 2004, World Community Grid has supported 29 research projects in areas such as cancer, HIV/AIDS, Zika, clean water, renewable energy and other humanitarian challenges. To date, World Community Grid, hosted by IBM Cloud, has connected researchers to $500 million U.S. dollars' worth of free supercomputing power.

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