LabDAO is charting the future of open source AI for drug discovery

The Folding@home project made headlines during the COVID-19 pandemic for using unused computing power to explore the protein folding search space to tackle the novel coronavirus. Enabling citizens to be scientists in their own right, the initiative performed large-scale simulations of different protein molecular configurations through a distributed network of enrolled computers around the world.

This decentralized paradigm was heralded to bring people together around a common problem and crowdsourced computing power efficiently, but what if the computing power and problem-solving infrastructure were reversed? In other words, what if individuals could manage their own projects by drawing on their accumulated computing power? AND the tools for biological experimentation to start?

LabDAO is making that dream a reality with its PLEX platform. PLEX is an open source command-line tool designed to make not only computational resources accessible, but also a variety of biological machine learning tools (coined the BioML suite within LabDAO) across a variety of backgrounds. Whether experimenting with small molecule docking or protein folding simulations, PLEX allows users to tap into LabDAO’s library of tools, share results, and visualize them in less than five minutes.

This suite of tools and its enablement platform on top of it was showcased at the Zuzalus Blockchain Meets Biology Summit in early April, where LabDAO Core Team member Lily Hansen-Gillis demonstrated end-to-end a simulation of the internal molecular dynamics of a protein to find its most stable configuration. So, as a self-taught non-programmer, she walked the audience through from start to finish, all with a computer, WiFi, PLEX on the command line, and nothing else.

More broadly, LabDAO is a web3-enabled decentralized platform (part of the larger DeSci movement) committed to creating a more productive environment for open source-based drug discovery. By making cutting-edge tools and resources available to a wider ecosystem, LabDAO aims to create the right environment for transparent and accessible scientific advances. Whether eliminating the need for researchers to have their own hardware or computing infrastructure or publishing the results of experiments on a blockchain ledger so they are tractable and reproducible, the organization is committed to enabling greater innovation through collaboration by breaking down the barriers caused by poor usability and silos, niche expertise.

LabDAO’s efforts to build this DeSci world of the future for today recently received a boost in the form of a $3.6 million funding round from various other DAOs,, Balaji Srinivasan, and others. This influx of support will contribute to ongoing efforts to create open source software tools and strengthen the LabDAO research ecosystem.

As for PLEX itself, the immediate next steps on the horizon include testing the platform in several scientific collaborations, containerizing various tools, and building up the necessary hardware to advance the BioML network.

Looking long-term, perhaps the next life-saving drug during the next major infectious disease outbreak will be engineered with the power of PLEX, one decentralized step forward at a time. As the ecosystem continues to grow, only time will tell.

Thanks to Aishani Aatresh for more research and reports on this article. I am the founder of SynBioBeta and some of the companies I write about are sponsors of SynBioBeta conference. For more content, you can subscribe to my weekly newsletter.

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