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Protein Folding Game Used for Scientific Research

August 25,2010 by: admin

Scientists from University of Washington started working on a project a couple of years ago that would determine how the brainpower of computer gamers can solve medical problems.

The project was to create a game, called FoldIt that is designed based on biochemistry principles. Amateurs will compete and work together with experts to design protein structures. The stages of the game will start with a simple tutorial stage and will continue with stages that are progressively more complex. The object of the game is to create or design protein structures with increasing stages of difficulty.

The game was compared to the Tetris game which needs a quick thinking ability, only this time, gamers will be “folding” a protein rather than fitting and stacking bricks. As much as it sounds like a game, it is actually designed for a critical biochemistry research. In 2008, Biochemist David Baker said that he wants to discover the unique folding of proteins to have a better understanding of how they make bodies work. Associate Professor Zoran Popovic, Ph.D. from the Department of Computer Science and Engineering at the University of Washington joined the team after a suggestion that the research be turned into a game.

Two years was dedicated to the research and in August 5 of this year, the results about the project came out. In the journal Nature, Foldit was featured along with the news that the game was actually a success.
Popovic said that the game was praised but were still questioned as to the results this game may bring or evidences on the usefulness of the game. He also hopes that more discovery games like Foldit will be developed.

As of now, no computer has been able to calculate how physical forces would cause a protein fold. This is why the University of Washington designed it as a game so that people can play and compete. The game allows a protein-folding game that has an awarding points system which is based on the internal energy of the protein structure, determined by the laws of physics.

About 57,000 Foldit players were acknowledged on the author list of the research paper, which may be unusual for a scientific publication. Seth Cooper, first author of the paper and a UW doctoral student in computer science said that they had to talk to the editors about the list and it wasn’t a standard style.
The author list will denote on the initial aim of having many people contribute to scientific advancement or research.

The challenge that the research team had faced when developing the game was make it fun while creating scientific results, Cooper said. There must be a balance between the three groups of scientists, game developers and players. A Foldit blog was created to update players about the game, upcoming competitions and events. Someday, players may design proteins that would disable the flu virus or embark upon HIV virus, or that would perform actions outside the body such as generating energy or cleaning up waste.

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