IBM World Community Grid “Supercomputer” to Tackle Rice Crisis

With 1 million registered devices, the world’s largest humanitarian grid can complete projects in less than two years, compared to over 200 years.

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Melbourne - 30 May 2008: As concerns of a global hunger crises mount, IBM (NYSE: IBM) and researchers at the University of Washington launched a new project recently to develop stronger strains of rice that could produce crops with larger and more nutritious yields.

The project, called Nutritious Rice for the World will study rice at the atomic level and then combine it with traditional cross breeding techniques used by farmers throughout history. IBM’s World Community Grid will make this possible by harnessing the unused and donated power from over one million individual personal computers, with the processing power of 167 teraflops. This is equivalent to the world’s top three supercomputers.

Using World Community Grid, will enable research to be completed in less than two years, compared with 200 years if more conventional power systems were used.

This year, Australia’s rice crop was the poorest it has been in more than 80 years as a result of the drought and lack of water allocations. The rice grown will go to Australia’s domestic market. This failure to produce an export crop has contributed to the worldwide food shortage. According to the International Rice Research Institute, this situation has been worsened by the cyclone in Burma which hit the key rice growing region, the Irrawaddy delta, west of the capital, Rangoon.

World Community Grid will run a three-dimensional modeling program created by computational biologists at the University of Washington to study the structures of the proteins that make up the building blocks of rice. Understanding the structure is necessary to identify the function of those proteins and to enable researchers to identify which ones could help produce more rice grains, ward off pests, resist disease or hold more nutrients. This project will result in the creation of the largest and most comprehensive map of rice proteins and their related functions, helping agriculturalists and farmers pinpoint which plants should be selected for cross-breeding to cultivate better crops.

“The issue is that there are between 30,000 and 60,000 different protein structures to study,” said Principal Investigator, Dr. Ram Samudrala, Associate Professor in the Department of Microbiology at the University of Washington. “Using traditional experimental approaches in the laboratory to identify detailed structure and function of critical proteins would take decades. Running our software program on World Community Grid will shorten the time from 200 years to less than 2 years.”

Ultimately, this project, jumpstarted by a US$2 million grant from the National Science Foundation, could enable rice-producing countries to become better adapted to future climate changes because they can quickly find the right plants for cross breeding, and create “super hybrids” that are more resistant to changing weather patterns.

The University of Washington together with its existing partners and IRRI will hold talks on how to move the project forward using the World Community Grid, focusing specifically on which proteins to target. This research is also important because the knowledge gained creating the 3D models can be easily transferred to other cereal crops such as corn, wheat, and barley. World Community Grid is fast approaching one million registered computers helping to advance scientific research. Each week, thousands of people sign on to this project that has significantly advanced several research projects on diseases like cancer and AIDS. The nutritious rice project is the latest to utilise the grid, and could have a major impact on global health.

“This project could ultimately help farmers around the world plant better crops and stave off hunger for some,” said Robin Willner, Vice President, Global Community Initiatives, IBM. “People who want to be a part of something big can take a small step today by donating their unused computer time. Volunteers can personally effect how quickly this research is completed and can make a significant difference for farmers and people in great need.” Anyone with a computer and Internet access can be a part of the solution. To donate unused computer time, individuals register on and install a free, small, secure software program onto their computers.

When computers are idle, data is requested from World Community Grid’s server. These computers then perform the computations, and send the results back to the server, prompting it for a new piece of work. A screen saver will tell individuals when their computers are being used. World Community Grid, the largest public humanitarian grid in existence, has an impressive 380,000-plus member base who represent more than 200 countries and links to over one million computers.

It is the volunteers that help make the difference because as each one shares their computer time, scientists are able to conduct their research faster. For example, the AfricanClimate@Home project just completed its data collection, and research analysis will now begin.In addition, The FightAIDS@Home project completed the equivalent of five years of HIV/AIDS research in just six months. “ Nutritious Rice for the World” is the tenth research project to be launched on World Community Grid and is one of six projects currently active.

To view the video news release, please visit:

For more information about IBM, please visit For more information about the International Rice Research Institute, please visit

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