A while back I posted about the interesting process of "gamification" (yes, people are actually wordifying gamification), or using gaming techniques to help solve complex problems. I even posted specifically about the game for protein folding that has resulted in scientific discovery and a paper in the journal Nature.
What I failed to mention is that this work continues on and you can participate. If you go to the FoldIt web site, you can download an app and start contributing. Most interesting is the description of the science behind FoldIt. They describe what protein folding is, and why it can help us understand diseases like HIV/AIDS, Cancer and Alzheimer's. They say:
- Protein structure prediction: As described above, knowing the structure of a protein is key to understanding how it works and to targeting it with drugs. A small proteins can consist of 100 amino acids, while some human proteins can be huge (1000 amino acids). The number of different ways even a small protein can fold is astronomical because there are so many degrees of freedom. Figuring out which of the many, many possible structures is the best one is regarded as one of the hardest problems in biology today and current methods take a lot of money and time, even for computers. Foldit attempts to predict the structure of a protein by taking advantage of humans' puzzle-solving intuitions and having people play competitively to fold the best proteins.
We’re collecting data to find out if humans' pattern-recognition and puzzle-solving abilities make them more efficient than existing computer programs at pattern-folding tasks. If this turns out to be true, we can then teach human strategies to computers and fold proteins faster than ever!
To learn more about FoldIt and even download the program and try it out, click here.