2 years ago we reported on a protein folding game called foldit. In brief, the program is a game that allows you to manipulate a protein, and gives you more points the more “correct” your protein 3D structure is. The game then shares your results with other players so they can try and improve your protein structure and earn points themselves.
At Games for Health 2010, one of the foldit concept designers presented a retrospective on how the game has fared over the past couple of years. When looking at the demographics of the user base, a large percentage of players had either no biochemistry training or just a class in high school. Surprisingly, many users are in the business and financial sectors.
But the ultimate question lies in if all this gaming and protein folding is even worth it. That question was answered resoundingly in last year’s CASP8 competition. In this competition protein sequences are handed out to various groups who then have to try and determine their 3D structure. The structures of these proteins are already known, so it is a great way to determine which protein folding methods are the best. At the end of the day foldit users beat automated protein-folding computer programs most of the time. Despite the non-scientific backgrounds of most users, foldit has led to correct protein folding solutions even when computers failed.
Looking ahead, the designers want to expand the functionality of the program while streamlining its usage. To hasten the folding process, strategies that are used frequently by human users will be boiled down into “recipes” to automate certain parts of the folding process. In terms of widening the scope, the designers are toying with the idea of DNA binding, and the synthesis of enzymes, drugs, and vaccines.
Download foldit and give it a try!