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Crowdsourcing Science

Posted on January 23rd, 2012 by Admin

Gamers and scientists in competition...and the gamers win?

Gamers, working diligently at their computers, have beaten scientists' in a competition to improve a model of an enzyme, in an effort that represents the first truly crowdsourcing of a protein redesign.

The online game Foldit, billed as a game to allow you to "solve puzzles for science,” is  a product of the Center for Game Science at the University of Washington in Seattle.  It allows gamers to model folding proteins on their home computers, with game play that gives top scores to those protein models with the lowest-energy configurations.

The researchers posed a series of puzzles to Foldit gamers, and the subsequently tested variations of the best designs in the laboratory.  Based specifically on models created by the Foldit gamers, the researchers in the laboratory have created a new enzyme model with more than 18 times higher activity than the original enzyme model.

“I worked for two years to make these enzymes better and I couldn’t do it,” states Justin Siegel, a post-doctoral researcher working in the biophysics group. “Foldit players were able to make a large jump in structural space and I still don’t fully understand how they did it.”

We often discuss the power of crowdsourcing as a means to facilitate the health care revolution, in particular, as a means of insuring that we all benefit from broadest participation in redesign.  This is a striking example of the power inherent in crowdsourcing, in this case, as a means of innovative and new enzyme design, created by gamers, and subsequently built in the laboratory.

It is a striking model of what we can hope to achieve with the work that we do here.

This work was published yesterday in Nature Biotechnology.


Tags: Foldit, research

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