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Google Dabbles in Protein Folding as It Evaluates New Toolbar Feature


Chances are you already have the ubiquitous Google toolbar installed on your web browser. But if the Mountain View, Calif.-based search engine company’s latest project catches on, the friendly toolbar may be capable of much more than helping you navigate the web.

Drawing on its experience with large-scale computing systems — over 10,000 PCs are linked together to power the search service — the company recently launched an exploratory distributed computing project called Google Compute. In mid-March, the company invited 500 randomly chosen Google users to try out a new version of the toolbar that allows them to download the screensaver that runs [email protected], a distributed protein-folding project led by Vijay Pande at Stanford University.

Google spokesman Nate Taylor told BioInform that the company might make the option available to its wider user base if the “experiment” is deemed a success, with the criteria being “whether people found it to be useful and enjoyable.” Taylor didn’t disclose a time frame for the project.

Taylor said the company is still evaluating whether Google Compute, which began as a pet project of Google founder and Stanford graduate Sergey Brin, may offer a revenue-generating opportunity for the company. For now, he said, “We’re focused on making a contribution to science.”

While [email protected] is the first such project to benefit from Google’s new number-crunching talent, Taylor said the company would likely add other scientific distributed computing projects to the toolbar in the future if it catches on.


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