Fold.it – the Protein Folding Game
Posted on June 22, 2008 Comments (8)
Foldit is a revolutionary new computer game enabling you to contribute to important scientific research. This is another awesome combination of technology, distributed problem solving, science education…
Essentially the game works by allowing the person to make some decisions then the computer runs through some processes to determine the result of those decisions. It seems the human insight of what might work provides an advantage to computers trying to calculate solutions on their own. Then the results are compared to the other individuals working on the same protein folding problem and the efforts are ranked.
This level of interaction is very cool. SETI@home, Rosetta@home and the like are useful tools to tap the computing resources of millions on the internet. But the use of human expertise really makes fold.it special. And you can’t help but learn by playing. In addition, if you are successful you can gain some scientific credit for your participation in new discoveries.
The site includes some excellent educational material on proteins and related material. What is a protein:
structure specifies the function of the protein. For example, a protein that breaks down glucose so the cell can use the energy stored in the sugar will have a shape that recognizes the glucose and binds to it (like a lock and key) and chemically reactive amino acids that will react with the glucose and break it down to release the energy.
Proteins are involved in almost all of the processes going on inside your body: they break down food to power your muscles, send signals through your brain that control the body, and transport nutrients through your blood. Many proteins act as enzymes, meaning they catalyze (speed up) chemical reactions that wouldn’t take place otherwise. But other proteins power muscle contractions, or act as chemical messages inside the body, or hundreds of other things.
What are amino acids?
“The biochemists are getting beaten to a pulp by the regular players,” laughed Zoran Popovic, a UW computer scientist who with his graduate students Adrien Treuille and Seth Cooper worked with Baker to help create this interactive game dubbed “Foldit.”
Fold.it is supported by: Univ. of Washington Animation Research Labs, UW Baker Lab, HHMI, DARPA, Microsoft, and Adobe. The game is only available for Mac or Windows though so if you use Linux (Ubuntu…) you are out of luck (for now anyway).