IBM Supercomputer To Mull Medical Mysteries

IBM unveiled Monday a $100 million plan to build the world's fastest supercomputer, which would be used to understand how proteins fold, considered important to understanding diseases and finding cures.

The ambitious plan envisions a new RS/6000 computer named "Blue Gene," capable of more than 1 quadrillion operations per second, or 1,000 times more powerful than the Deep Blue machine that beat world chess champion Garry Kasparov in 1997.

Blue Gene will consist of more than 1 million processors, each capable of 1 billion operations per second, IBM said. That would make it 2 million times more powerful than today's top PCs.

Researchers said they believe they can achieve that level of performance in about five years, when the computer would be put to work on complex genetic mysteries.

"In many ways, Deep Blue got a better job today," said Paul Horn, senior vice president of IBM Research. "If this computer unlocks the mystery of how proteins fold, it will be an important milestone in the future of medicine and health care."

Proteins, which control all cellular function in the human body, fold into highly complex, 3D shapes that determine their function. A change in the shape of a protein candramatically change its function, and even a slight change in folding can turn a desirable protein into a disease.