Protein Puzzle That Baffled Scientists for 15 Years, Solved by Gamers in 10 Days

For over 15 years, scientists have been trying to figure out the molecular structure of a protein that causes AIDS in rhesus monkeys. Gamers did it in 10 days.

The feat, which was accomplished using a collaborative online game called FoldIt, is also one giant leap for citizen science – a burgeoning field that enlists Internet users to look for alien planets, decipher ancient texts and do other scientific tasks that sheer computer power can’t accomplish as easily.

The discovery was made by a group of 12-15 players, a team that goes by the name The Contenders. Participants were from all over the globe, some living in Canada, the US, UK, Europe and New Zealand.

Scientists have since verified the players’ approach, and a paper was subsequently published. It should be pointed out that The Contenders chose to be accredited as a team, as opposed to being named individually.

Seeing this news today makes me think of Jane McGonigal and her assessment that we need to be playing 21 billion hours of games, each week. Her TED talk was really compelling, and if you haven’t seen it… it’s worth watching.

Best comment that I’ve seen regarding the FoldIt announcement: Achievement unlocked.

Pretty cool stuff! I haven’t done anything game-specific like FoldIt before, but I was a big participant of SETI@Home for a long, long time. I first heard about it when I was in graduate school, and was a contributor for a good many years. Granted, it was a crappy PC compared to machines nowadays, but mine was a small worker… crunching data and sending back findings, a little at a time.

There are a lot of ways to lend your computer (or gaming console) towards a distributed computing campaign. Check out Boinc for ways to make your screensaver and your idling computer a little more helpful.

// Edit: For those in Chicago, it may be of interest to note that Rob is a moderator at an upcoming Columbia talk. The event is titled Crowdsourcing and the Future of the Creative Department.

While I love crowdsourcing in terms of science, I’m less confident that it applies well on the creative side of things (particularly stuff like design or writing). The talk is next Thursday, September 22nd at 6:30 PM, at Columbia (618 S. Michigan, 2nd floor).

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Jane McGonigal On Saving The World Through Games
SETI @ Home

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