The other night I wanted to kill some time before "30 Rock" started, so I sat down and tried to build a strand of RNA. I clicked a yellow adenine avatar to turn it into peppermint-candy-shaped guanine, preparing to form a base pair. I moused over whole sections of my virtual molecule, switching bases and zooming in and out to ensure I kept the required shape as I formed more chemical bonds.
For now, for me, the computer game EteRNA is a fun diversion. But maybe someday, if I get really good, Adrien Treuille and his colleagues at Carnegie Mellon University will bring one of my RNAs to life, synthesizing it in a lab and checking whether it could lead to new drugs or new research in biotechnology. I would so love to find out. And this is exactly the point.
Using software at home, gamers took just three weeks to solve a decade-old enzymatic enigma, in a breakthrough that could have implications for AIDS treatment. The crowdsourced puzzle solution will give scientists new insights in designing antiretroviral drugs, which could stop the AIDS virus from spreading.
Puzzle-loving gamers are better at solving molecular biology problems than a supercomputer, according to a new study published today in the journal Nature. Playing a game called Foldit, which involves protein folding, gamers outsmarted computers on problems that required radical moves, risks and long-term vision.
The researchers, based at the University of Washington in Seattle, are incorporating the best Foldit players' strategies into their own algorithms. Forget distributed computing -- this is distributed thinking.