Indianapolis funeral firm joins University of Washington coronavirus protein project

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Indianapolis-based Buchanan Group, the parent of Flanner Buchanan Funeral Homes, on Thursday announced the company is dedicating its disaster recovery computer servers to a University of Washington project that is helping develop a vaccine for COVID-19.

The local company’s servers will be supporting Rosetta@home, a project by the Baker Lab at the University of Washington that operates on the Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing and is predicting protein structures of coronavirus to aid in the development of a vaccine.

Baker Lab has asked companies and people capable of processing data to join in on the massive project while their computers are idle. It wasn’t immediately clear how many people and organizations have answered the crowd-sourcing call. An inquiry to Baker Lab by IBJ wasn’t immediately answered.

On its website, Baker Lab says “by running Rosetta@home on your computer when you’re not using it, you will speed up and extend our efforts to design new proteins and to predict their 3-dimensional shapes. Proteins are the molecular machines and building blocks of life.”

The basic goal of the program is to predict protein, protein docking and to design new proteins.

“Baker Lab has an impressive history with this technology, which puts them in a unique position to swiftly develop a vaccine for COVID-19,” John Meyer, Buchanan Group vp of technology, said in written comments.  “However, this means processing a great deal of data. With the Rosetta@home distributed computing model, a bunch of small processing projects quickly add up to a giant project that could not have been done easily by a single organization. That’s why Baker Lab has called out to anyone who can help process data, and we are honored to join the fight.”

Baker Lab is asking contributors to help hunt for proteins that could stop the virus. They’re specifically seeking proteins that block the viruses’s entry into new cells when entering the human body. If successful, new antiviral drugs could be developed. More than 20,000 designs have been submitted already.

Buchanan Group’s disaster recovery servers are regularly updated with backup information to prepare for a disaster; however, the processing capabilities of these systems during daily operations is largely underutilized, Buchanan Group said.

Through the partnership, Buchanan Group has provided the servers as dedicated systems running protein analysis software.

“Buchanan Group is ready to activate our disaster recovery systems in the event of an outage or any other emergency,” Bruce Buchanan, Buchanan Group owner, said in written comments. “This new partnership will not impact our daily operations at all. Our electric bill may increase slightly—but a vaccination is something that could save millions of lives. It’s a small price to pay.”

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