New Videogame Lets Amateur Researchers Mess with RNA
“The players are discovering totally new aspects of biochemistry—blurring the line between gamer and scientist.”
Inspired by everyone’s favorite protein folding game Foldit (which gets players to figure out the folding structures of proteins), EteRNA use the designs created by players to decipher how real RNA works. And there’s more:
The game’s elite players compete for a unique and wondrous prize: the chance to have RNA designs of their own making brought to life. Every two weeks, four to 16 player-designed molecules are picked to be synthesized in an RNA lab at Stanford. “It’s pretty incredible to imagine that somewhere there’s a piece of RNA that I designed that never existed anywhere in nature before,” says Robert Rogoyski, a New York City patent attorney who has had 14 of his EteRNA designs selected for synthesis. “It could encode a protein that no one has ever seen, something that’s important in the discovery of the next blockbuster glaucoma or cancer drug. Or it could be the cause of the zombie apocalypse.”
The thought behind these games is to use the players like a giant computer program, only the people playing the game bring unique abilities to the project:
“Computers don’t have flashes of insight. But the human brain can use intuition to feel its way around problems.”
Photo: Nigel Parry
Fantastic crowd sourcing and gamification of science.