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Dinner on Your Desktop

Comparisson of different rice types

Juan Lazaro IV/IRRI Photo Bank

A comparison of different rice types.

From the NSF, a story on a federally-supported project aimed at harnessing the power of distributed computing to alleviate hunger.

The project, dubbed Nutritious Rice for the World, runs out of the University of Washington, but pieces of the research could be unfolding on a desktop near you. That’s because the research is one of five projects currently part of IBM’s World Community Grid. The grid allows volunteer computer users to run a small program that takes advantage of unused processing power to predict the structure of desirable rice proteins.

Understanding the protein structures for the major strains of rice will allow researchers to help farmers cultivate healthier crops, feeding more people and earning growers more income from their harvests. According to the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations, rice is the primary staple food for more than half the people on the planet and accounts for 20 percent of the total caloric intake of everyone in the world.

Ram Samudrala, associate professor and computational biologist, is the project leader at UW, and explains that plants better suited to local environments mean that food doesn’t have to move across large distances before it get to the people need it:

“The fundamental problem with food shortages in the world is one of distribution,” Samudrala says. “Creating distribution chains costs money. We overcome that by designing new crop species that indirectly address this problem by providing higher yields but also better nutrition and adaptability to local and global environments.”

This is doubly significant in the wake of this year’s food price spikes and the resulting crisis. One of the catalysts of the price increases was the skyrocketing cost of transportation fuel.

Press coverage of the project has been significant since the launch in May of this year. Got some unused CPU power under the hood of your PC? Anyone can register for the grid.

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