back to article Petaflops help scientists understand why some COVID-19 variants are more contagious

Supercomputer-power calculations have helped to uncover how certain variants of the COVID-19 virus "improve" – ie, become more contagious – through their binding energy with human cells. A lab at Ohio’s University of Toledo has specialized in understanding molecular recognition, the process by which two molecules find each …

  1. b0llchit Silver badge

    Two sides of the coin

    It is nice to see how biology can be explained by the molecular interactions when enough calculation power is committed. It surely has good uses.

    However, the other side is that it also opens up for creating specific molecules to do one's bidding. This is biological warfare at a whole new level.

    The problem is that the undesirable side of this work will be done in hiding and will haunt us sooner or later. And that is regardless the treaties about banning biological warfare.

    1. Charlie Clark Silver badge

      Re: Two sides of the coin

      This kind of processing is not really suitable for molecular design; the idea is to help develop a kind of early warning system. Other systems for this have already been developed and tools like CRISPR-CAS9 are already being used to make them.

      1. b0llchit Silver badge

        Re: Two sides of the coin

        It is not the the genetic structure that you optimize with calculation nor do you use it to splice and construct. It is its effect of the genetics on the molecules you want to look at. And that can be calculated using proposed and used methods from this research.

        From energetic optimization of the molecule you can conclude which genetic makeup you must construct. Then you use that to create the strand and CRISPR-CAS9 to implant it into a new virus.

    2. Throatwarbler Mangrove Silver badge

      Re: Two sides of the coin

      That's science for you; almost every discovery can be used for beneficial purposes or harmful ones, as illustrated by this ancient parable:

      "Build a man a fire, and you keep him warm for a night. Set a man on fire, and you keep him warm for the rest of his life."

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Two sides of the coin

        You invent a new metal. Now you have a new razor blade that never goes blunt and armour plateing for a tank

    3. Filippo Silver badge

      Re: Two sides of the coin

      Well, yes. The same can be said for any and all scientific discovery, up to and including things like fire and the wheel. As much as I dislike the idea of being set on fire or run over, I wouldn't want to have to do without those. I expect people a hundred years from now (but hopefully less) to make similar considerations with regard to genetic engineering.

      Ultimately, the answer to all objections to scientific advances on the basis of they might be used for evil, is that it's the scientist's job to figure out how stuff works, but it's the philosopher's job to figure out what uses are good and what are evil, and the politician's job to figure out how to get people to do the former and not the latter.

      If everyone does their job, things just might work (they still might not - these are difficult jobs).

      If someone tries to do someone else's job, things definitely won't work.

  2. cookieMonster Silver badge

    Seems familiar

    “ the process by which two molecules find each other, and bind together to act-out a biological function”

    Sounds like night clubbing on the weekend to me

    1. Munchausen's proxy

      Re: Seems familiar

      "Sounds like night clubbing on the weekend to me"

      Over a large population, the math is probably pretty similar.

  3. Sceptic Tank Silver badge

    Hu Knows

    I find it interesting how this whole covid pandemic sensation seems to have just disappeared after the lockdowns ended. It's almost as if almost everybody became immune to the virus after normal life returned. I wish all kinds of specific harm to come over the gov'mint officials worldwide who devised those quarantine measures, mostly for their own benefit. Ask around: in this fine country of mine there were emergency laws that dictated what types of clothes shops were allowed to sell (e.g. sneakers, but not sandals), a complete ban on the sale of cigarettes, as well as a ban on the sale of rotisserie chicken. The debate on WTF the people in charge were thinking at the time has not been settled.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Hu Knows

      Unfortunately the same people who implemented the lockdowns are still in place, so expect minimal effort to investigate consequences, as it might make the same people look bad.

    2. Mark Hahn

      Re: Hu Knows

      Just curious what country you're talking about.

  4. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    There seems to be something more than this at work. As the virus has evolved it has become more infective but provoking milder symptoms. This can't be a matter of our immune systems being trained against it - AFAICR this trend had started before vaccination had become widespread. This also needs to be understood. The wider understanding should help in designing the next generation of vaccines. The virus is here to stay so we need to try to push it to a form which is no more serious than any of the other respiratory viruses which we categorise as the common cold.

    1. Robert Carnegie Silver badge

      I'm not a biologist, but I think there was some reporting that the omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2 had "learned" to infect the upper respiratory tract, or something like that. I'm not swearing to this. This meant that less of critical physical damage was done in the lungs - I suppose that your immune system would be fighting the virus before it entered the lungs, whereas a big part of the harm done is your immune system fighting a war against the virus when it is entrenched, so to speak, in the lungs. Your body is the battlefield, and it gets hurt. There also was an idea that the infection being in the upper respiratory tract means that more of the virus particles get blown out on your breath.

      A virus doesn't care if you live or die, it just "wants" to reproduce. Being too deadly isn't good for that: as infected people die, the virus dies. So there's a trend for a virus to kill fewer and fewer of its victims. But in the case of omicron, although it does continue to kill people, I think we were "lucky" that it accidentally chose to infect us in a different way - if any of what I've said is what actually happened.

  5. Mark Hahn

    Doesn't take much to bring out the conspiracy kooks, especially considering how common this sort of simulation study is.

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