Proteins are present in all living things. They are part of many diseases, and can be a part of the cure
Knowing how a protein is structured is critical for learning how it behaves and ultimately for cures or solutions
People’s pattern-recognition and puzzle-solving abilities make them adept at protein pattern-folding tasks
FoldIt uses gamification to leverage brainpower and creativity to help develop medicines, vaccines, and even biofuels
Proteins are present in all living things, from the human body to plants, bacteria, and viruses. They are a part of many diseases, and can be a part of the cure. Knowing more about the 3D structure of proteins (or how they “fold”) is critical for understanding how those proteins function.
In Foldit, players are presented with a model of a protein, which they can fold using a host of tools. The game evaluates how good of a fold the player has made, and gives them a score. The gamification of protein folding enables scientists to use individual’s strategies and intuition to solve complex problems that traditional computational methods cannot match. Protein structures created in Foldit are providing essential information to help develop medicines, vaccines, and even biofuels. In 2011, players of Foldit unraveled the crystal structure of the Mason-Pfizer monkey virus (M-PMV) retroviral protease, which is an AIDS-causing monkey virus. The participation of citizen scientists is changing the ways in which scientific research is conducted.
Foldit is important both because of its methods and its potential outcomes. First, Foldit is an important tool for leveraging intellect, our only truly unlimited resource. It engages experts to leverage the brainpower and creativity of citizens across the globe. It increases the speed and efficiency at which problems can be solved, and does so using minimum physical resources. Second, Foldit focuses on important areas of inquiry in medicine and energy. One particular line of inquiry relates to creating new biofuels to replace existing fuel sources.
Foldit was developed by the Center for Game Science at University of Washington in collaboration with UW Department of Biochemistry on the premise that humans can be more effective than computers at certain tasks related to understanding proteins, and that citizens can contribute to important scientific research through game play.