When you think of IBM, you think of computers, not rice bowls. But for the billions of people around the world who rely on rice as a staple food, a new initiative by Big Blue could mean heartier meals.
A worldwide network of computers created by IBM will be tackling the looming rice shortage by helping researchers at the University of Washington research stronger, more nutritious and climate-tolerant rice strains.
IBMâ€™s World Community Grid â€” a network of more than 1 million personal computers linked together to donate idle time to science â€” has accepted the Nutritious Rice for the World project as its latest effort.
Robin Wilner, vice president of Global Community Initiatives at IBMâ€™s Armonk headquarters, said this is the ninth project for the grid, which was started in 2004.
â€œAs a corporation, weâ€™re a member of all of the communities where IBMers live and work and where our customers live and work. We need to be involved in solving problems that affect those communities, whether itâ€™s looking for a cure for AIDS, creating diagnostic tools for cancer or finding more nutritious, disease-resistant rice,â€ she said.
IBM is not only providing technical assistance to the project, itâ€™s donating computer time. Almost a third of IBMâ€™s employees have signed up to allow their PCs to be used by the World Community Gridâ€™s projects.
â€œMore than 100,000 of us have World Community Grid on our laptops. Whenever we are on the phone, like we are now, my laptop is working to find out about the proteins in rice because Iâ€™m not typing,â€ she said.
The idea behind the grid is that unused computer power can add up to deliver the performance of a supercomputer to an organization that couldnâ€™t afford to buy one for itself.
The University of Washington researchers will use the grid in a project that is expected to take 12 to 18 months. Without IBMâ€™s help, it would 200 years to complete the rice study using just the computers the researchers have at hand.
The project involves mapping the structure of rice proteins using three-dimensional models on the computer to find ones that yield more rice, repel bugs, resist drought or contain more nutrients.
Anyone with a computer and Internet access can donate their time.
The project is supported by a $2 million grant from the National Science Foundation.