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Computer users are being asked to donate their unused processor power to help solve social and environmental research problems. The IBM-backed project, called World Community Grid, aims to put the untapped processing power of millions of unused computers into use; crunching numbers for scientists working to understand diseases like HIV, Alzheimer's and cancer, to improve forecasting of natural disasters and to support environmental studies.

The first project that will benefit is the Human Proteome Folding Project. This is working to identify the components of the Human Proteome, a key step in developing cures for diseases like malaria and tuberculosis.

Like the Seti@Home project which inspired it, volunteers on the World Community Grid will download software to their computer to tackle these computationally intensive research problems. According to reports, IBM has lent the project its backing to provide a measure of respectability, and allay corporate concerns about the security of downloading such software.

Linda Sanford, an IBM executive vice president, told Reuters: "We are looking for the individual, not the institution, per se, to contribute. (Companies) will let their employees know when they can participate." She said that the project gave people an opportunity to contribute to a good cause without having to fork over hard-earned cash, adding: "Not everyone can contribute with dollars."

The project has been designed to handle around 10m volunteer machines. IBM has donated hardware, software, and tech support services to the project. For details of how to sign up, go here. ®

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