Video games are everywhere these days!  And so, the next time you go to pick up your Wii controllers or log on to your favorite World of Warcraft server, take an hour or so to put your gaming skills to a more scientific use.  Scientists at the University of Washington are exploiting our societal love of video games to advance their research on protein folding by creating the game Foldit.
Though this program appears to be just a game based on logic, each “move” in the game is actually determining protein structure, one fold at a time. So why should you dedicate your hour of free time folding proteins instead of getting a new high score on Mario Kart?  Proteins are biology’s workforce: they drive all of the reactions that make biology work, and comprise all of the structural elements that hold biology together.  Proteins self-assemble into specific shapes, or folds, in order to carry out their designated function.  When proteins fold incorrectly, they can clump together into aggregates that promote diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, cystic fibrosis, and Mad Cow.  And so, by understanding the folding process for particular proteins linked to these diseases, scientists can also begin to predict where folding mistakes may occur and how to avoid them. To get started, download the free Foldit program and take the 20 minute tutorial on the rules of the game.  There are also beginner puzzles you can try to familiarize yourself with how the program works.  From there, it’s happy folding! A special thank you to JT Lewis, for bringing the Foldit project to my attention. (Reporting on citizen science projects is much easier to do with the help of our readers — this means YOU!  Please report any projects you hear about using our form on the main webpage!)

  • Topics: Computers and technology
  • Location: at home or close to home
  • Duration: a few hours, or less
  • Cost: free or low cost
  • Gear: A computer with an internet connection (to download software)
  • Level of Difficulty: Easy

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