Fold.it – the Protein Folding Game

Posted on June 22, 2008  Comments (7)

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.

Related: Expert Foldit Protein Folder, JSnyderResearchers Launch Online Protein Folding GameNew Approach Builds Better Proteins Inside a ComputerPhun PhysicsProtein Knots

The site includes some excellent educational material on proteins and related material. What is a protein:

Proteins are the workhorses in every cell of every living thing. Your body is made up of trillions of cells, of all different kinds: muscle cells, brain cells, blood cells, and more. Inside those cells, proteins are allowing your body to do what it does: break down food to power your muscles, send signals through your brain that control the body, and transport nutrients through your blood. Proteins come in thousands of different varieties, but they all have a lot in common. For instance, they’re made of the same stuff: every protein consists of a long chain of joined-together amino acids.

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?

Amino acids are small molecules made up of atoms of carbon, oxygen, nitrogen, sulfur, and hydrogen. To make a protein, the amino acids are joined in an unbranched chain, like a line of people holding hands. Just as the line of people has their legs and feet “hanging” off the chain, each amino acid has a small group of atoms (called a sidechain) sticking off the main chain (backbone) that connects them all together. There are 20 different kinds of amino acids, which differ from one another based on what atoms are in their sidechains. These 20 amino acids fall into different groups based on their chemical properties: acidic or alkaline, hydrophilic (water-loving) or hydrophobic (greasy).

Scientists tap gaming’s power

“He’s actually better at it than I am,” said Baker, a UW biochemist who is world renowned for his work on protein analysis. Players don’t have to know anything about biology or science to play it, he noted, but playing the game will actually assist researchers with real problems in the lab.

“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).

7 Responses to “Fold.it – the Protein Folding Game”

  1. Stefanie
    June 22nd, 2008 @ 9:52 pm

    This sounds really cool! I’ll have to let my husband know about this. He has one of his computers running a Folding@Home program that contributes to the research, so I’m sure he would love to play a game that does the same.

  2. Chris K. Haley
    December 3rd, 2008 @ 11:04 am

    I’ve recently been studying the physical work that proteins are able to do and find it to be amazing. They can essentially behave as tiny nano-robots. Some proteins are able to physically move inside the cell along a track (Kinesins and Dyneins for example) as if they were tiny nano-robots.

  3. curiouscat
    December 3rd, 2008 @ 3:28 pm

    Proteins are fascinating. There are so many really cool areas of science. I didn’t really find biology that fascinating a subject in school, but i find much of in amazing now. I think a big part of the problem is we need to do a much better job of presenting this material. It is amazing. There has got to be better ways to present it to kids and students of all ages.

  4. metin
    June 24th, 2010 @ 2:10 pm

    There are so many really cool areas of science. I didn’t really find biology that fascinating a subject in school, but i find much of in amazing now. I think a big part of the problem is we need to do a much better job of presenting this material. It is amazing. There has got to be better ways to present it to kids and students of all ages. I’ve recently been studying the physical work that proteins are able to do and find it to be amazing. They can essentially behave as tiny nano-robots. Some proteins are able to physically move inside the cell along a track (Kinesins and Dyneins for example) as if they were tiny nano-robots.

  5. ijuk
    March 20th, 2011 @ 11:22 pm

    really want to try this game. looks like that this is a educational game. thanks for the review

  6. Algorithmic Self-Assembly » Curious Cat Science and Engineering Blog
    July 29th, 2011 @ 7:55 pm

    [...] I posted a few months ago about how you can participate in the protein folding, with the Protein Folding Game. [...]

  7. Thomas Buckland
    September 8th, 2011 @ 11:26 am

    Foldit is incredible, I am all for games that contribute to society while being fun. I think more people should be trying to make work fun and similar to games.

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