Greg Baker/AP

IBM and Volunteers Using Computers to Cultivate Better Rice Crops

December 16, 2008 03:23 PM
by Sarah Amandolare
To research and develop more nutritious rice from more productive paddies, IBM is utilizing unused computer time on thousands of volunteer computers.

Power of World Community Grid

IBM has teamed up with the University of Washington and the International Rice Research Institute to learn how to develop rice that is more nutritious and produces higher yields. To complete the study, the team is harnessing power from the idle computers of volunteers, a strategy also being used for other IBM humanitarian projects. This donated computer space is called the World Community Grid.

According to a press release from IBM, nearly half a million volunteers have donated space on their computers for the rice project, which has produced results three months ahead of the projected schedule. The extra space has enabled IBM’s team to intensively study rice proteins and establish a “comprehensive map of rice proteins” to discover the strongest and most nutritious rice strands.

In the press release, Stanley S. Litow, IBM’s vice president of corporate citizenship and corporate affairs, said the project “demonstrates how a smart application of technology can … create a greater change in society and how it deals with food issues."

In August 2007, IBM teamed with The University of Texas Medical Branch and the University of Chicago for a project called “Discovering Dengue Drugs—Together,” aimed at finding treatments and cures for illnesses like West Nile virus and yellow fever. Discovering Dengue Drugs utilized the World Community Grid, IBM’s volunteer computer space.

And earlier this month, Reuters reported that IBM and Harvard University scientists were tapping into the World Community Grid in a collaborative effort to “develop a new, cheaper form of solar power.” The project was predicted to take 22 years to complete, but the extra computer space provided by volunteers could shorten it to just two years.

Background: How the grid works

BusinessWeek reported on the IBM and University of Washington rice project when it was first announced in May 2008, explaining the World Community Grid as a “a dispersed supercomputer that relies on individuals to donate their spare computing power when they're not using their PCs.”

Volunteers leave their computers up and running all the time, and downloaded networking software “does the rest” of the work for them. According to BusinessWeek, the World Community Grid “now has such tremendous computational power that it's ranked as the No. 3 supercomputer in the world.”

Related Topic: The CERN Supercollider

Reference: Grid computing


Most Recent Beyond The Headlines