Scientific and Technical Background

What is COVID-19?

Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is a disease caused by the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV2) a virus that belongs to the coronavirus family, which includes also SARS-CoV (responsible of the SARS outbreak of 2003) and the MERS-CoV (responsible of the MERS outbreak of 2013). These viruses share the common trait of infecting the human respiratory system and can cause serious illness or even death. First identified as a pneumonia of unknown origin at the end of 2019, the disease was named COVID-19 in February 2020. COVID-19 proved to be highly infectious and quickly spread to every continent.

Why is COVID-19 considered to be so dangerous?

COVID-19 is considered to be highly infectious disease, since the virus is usually spread through droplets generated when an infected person coughs or sneezes, or through droplets of saliva or discharge from the nose. The World Health Organization has stated that COVID-19 may be able to spread in all types of weather and may not necessarily require direct contact with an infected person. The virus can affect people of all ages, although the elderly, immunocompromised, and anyone with existing health problems are believed to be more susceptible.

As of the launch of this project, there is no effective treatment, cure, or vaccine for COVID-19.

There are other volunteer computing projects related to COVID-19? Does the world really need more than one?

Yes! There other volunteer computing projects right now that are part of the fight against COVID-19, and they are all doing important work. Understanding the molecular structure of the virus that causes COVID-19, searching for treatments, and ultimately finding a vaccine, requires an "all hands on deck" approach from scientists, government agencies, businesses, and the general public.

How exactly does this project use computing power to look for potential COVID-19 treatments?

The Forli Lab is using a process known as molecular docking, which is the study of how two or more molecules fit together, such as a protein in a human cell or in a virus, and a chemical compound. In OpenPandemics - COVID-19, the researchers are leveraging this technique at scale, thanks to World Community Grid's massive computational power, by virtually screening millions of chemical compounds to see which might be capable of binding to proteins of the SARS-Cov2, as well as other coronaviruses proteins. This helps them identify which compounds could be effective against the virus and therefore may be able to contrast the COVID-19 progression. Promising compounds will then proceed through the drug discovery process, which includes laboratory testing and chemical optimizations.

The researchers plan to screen compounds from various sources including existing commercially available and clinically tested compounds, focused libraries generated in silico, as well as in-house libraries of compounds that are available at Scripps Research.

Where can I learn more about COVID-19, SARS-CoV2, and other coronaviruses?

The Center for Disease Control and World Health Organization have many resources that are continually updated with the newest information about COVID-19.

Members of the Center for Computational Structural Biology at Scripps Research are also producing materials about SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) and its molecules, including accurate 3D models, illustrations and educational materials, including CellPAINT, a program that allows you to draw your own pictures of the virus.

What are the system requirements for devices to participate in OpenPandemics – COVID-19?

Any laptop or desktop can be used. OpenPandemics – COVID-19 runs on Windows, Mac, and Linux systems. Learn more about the system requirements at