Now, there is a new excuse for playing games online: curing disease.
Researchers at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) at the University of Washington have brought the arcane world of protein folding to the online gaming arena with the launch of “Foldit,” a free game in which players around the world compete to design proteins. The real world benefit: Scientists will test proteins designed by the game’s players to see if they make viable candidate compounds for new drugs.
The development of the online game is an extension of HHMI investigator David Baker’s quest to understand how proteins fold into unique three-dimensional shapes. Over the past decade, Baker and his colleagues have made steady progress in developing computer algorithms to predict how a linear string of amino acids will fold into a given protein’s characteristic shape. A detailed understanding of a protein’s structure can reveal intricacies about the protein’s biological function and suggesting new ideas for drug design.
Modeling even a small protein requires making trillions of calculations. Over the last three years, volunteers around the globe donated their computer down-time to performing those calculations in a distributed network called Rosetta@home. The computing logic behind the network is an algorithm called Rosetta that uses the Monte Carlo technique to find the best “fit” for all of the parts of a given protein. The volunteers suggested that some human intervention could speed up the process and the multiplayer online game was created.
“Foldit” takes players through a series of practice levels designed to teach the basics of protein folding, before turning them loose on real proteins from nature. Baker hopes that the game will speed up the sometimes tedious business of structure prediction. But the part of the game that excites him most is scheduled to debut this fall, when gamers will be able to design all-new proteins. Novel proteins could find use in any number of applications, from pharmaceuticals to industrial chemicals, to pollution clean up. With the ability for any person with a computer and an internet hookup to start building proteins, Baker thinks the pace of discovery could skyrocket. “My dream is that a 12-year-old in Indonesia will turn out to be a prodigy, and build a cure for HIV,” he says.
Users can access the game via the web at www.fold.it
Release Date: May 8, 2008
Source: Howard Hughes Medical Institute
Filed Under: Genomics/Proteomics