Filed on Aug 06th 2010 in Fun
Who says gaming is a waste of time?
In an unprecedented move, a paper in the latest issue of Nature gives author credits to tens of thousands of people who contributed by playing games on a computer. But instead of saving a princess or racing cars, these gamers are helping cure diseases by predicting the way proteins fold.
The more we know about proteins, the better we can target them with drugs and combat diseases like AIDS, cancer, and Alzheimer's. However, the number of different ways even a small protein can fold is astronomical. Figuring out which of the many possible structures is the best one is such a challenge that even supercomputers have a tough time doing it.
Two years ago, biochemists and computer scientists at the University of Washington launched an ambitious project that takes advantage of humans' puzzle-solving intuitions. The game, called Foldit, is essentially a 3D puzzle that has players compete to fold the best proteins. What the scientists discovered is that the gamers tended to beat the computer algorithms when it came to solving structures, even though most had no significant background in biochemistry.
Learn more in this video produced by Nature:
Want to give Foldit a shot? Download the game.
If you are interested in gaming, check out Dibner Library's collection of game design books. Here are a few:
- Programming the cell processor: for games, graphics, and computation
- The art of game design: a book of lenses
- Game usability: advancing the player experience
- Better game characters by design: a psychological approach
Nature: Predicting protein structures with a multiplayer online game (Access full text with your NYU NetID)
Ars Technica: Gamers beat algorithms at finding protein structures