Foldit Makes Protein Folding A Game

Illustration for article titled Foldit Makes Protein Folding A Game

Could you win a Nobel Prize in Medicine for playing a computer game? Foldit is a game for the PC and Mac that takes the Folding@Home concept and adds a more human element to the mix. Instead of having a network of computers work through all of the possible shapes for folding proteins, a problem so huge it could take centuries for all of the computers in the world to solve, Foldit presents unfolded proteins to the player in the form of puzzles, on the basis that human intuition could tackle the problem much faster.

"Some people are just able to look at the game and in less than two minutes, get to the top score," said (UW associate professor of computer science and engineering) Zoran Popovic. "They can't even explain what they're doing, but somehow they're able to do it."


Created by University of Washington doctoral student Seth Cooper and postdoctoral researcher Adrien Treuille, working with Zoran Popovic, professor of biochemistry and Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator David Baker, and David Salesin, a UW professor of computer science and engineering, the game could revolutionize the way medical research is done.

"We're hopefully going to change the way science is done, and who it's done by," said Popovic, who presented the project today at the Games for Health meeting in Baltimore. "Our ultimate goal is to have ordinary people play the game and eventually be candidates for winning the Nobel Prize."

The game itself is presented as a series of puzzles, slowly introducing you to the concepts of the game, offering point values for completing each level.

The team consulted with game developers in creation of Foldit, which along with human intuition introduces a competitive element to protein folding, allowing for players to create teams that will eventually compete against top researchers around the world. The game has been in testing with puzzles involving known proteins, and now they are beginning to move on to puzzles with unknown solutions. Later this year they intend to introduce proteins they wish existed, allowing players to possibly create all new biological creations within a game.

It remains to be seen how effective the Foldit is, but the concept itself is pure genius. If they could integrate this sort of thing into the Folding@Home project or just introduce it to consoles as a downloadable game via PSN or Xbox Live Arcade, they've immediately have some of the best minds in gaming at their disposal. Hell, with the push and pull mechanism of the puzzles I've played so far, even WiiWare wouldn't be out of the question, though then the medical community would have to tackle an even bigger problem - friend codes.

Computer Game's High Score Could Earn The Nobel Prize In Medicine [ScienceDaily]


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