Foldit

Foldit

This game is about protein folding: how the individual molecules that make up a protein are arranged in 3-D space. I realize that sounds like the most boring subject ever, but please stick with me for just a minute. [You’re about to find out what a huge science nerd I am.]

The reason that Foldit is so cool is not because the game has an exciting premise, nor an influential message, but rather because it has been used (and is still being used) to discover real science! It’s not trying to say anything about society, but is instead actively contributing to our knowledge of molecular biology.

Here’s how it works. The player is given a 3-D representation of a protein.

With the mouse, the player can then rotate the image to see it differently, and click and drag portions of the molecule to move its pieces around. The goal is to create the best shape for the protein, which in reality is based on multiple factors, but in the game is simplified into reducing red zones. As you reduce red zones by moving the bits of the protein around, your score goes up, and once you reach a certain score you pass the level. There is no one shape for each level that gets you to an adequate score, and multiple shapes theoretically could work. This is because the creators of the game do not actually know what the true structures are for these molecules.

Apparently even state-of-the-art computers can only estimate these shapes to a point, and to get more accurate structures, a human mind working to solve the puzzle is better than any computer developed to date. The structures of proteins solved by average Joes playing the game online have resulted in multiple publications and discoveries, including a better understanding of HIV/AIDS.

Foldit gives the general public a way to contribute to real science, not by having to understand the intricacies of molecular biology or biochemistry, but instead by playing an online game. Moreover, it underscores (perhaps unintentionally) that while we can develop incredibly complex computing programs, they cannot surpass the human intellect.

That being said, I didn’t find the game too fun to play. It’s essentially a puzzle game, so if you enjoy that type of game, give it a try! You might discover something new. You can download it [for free!] here: http://fold.it/portal/ 

And here’s a video demo:

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1 comment
  1. khausoul said:

    Whereas this may seem like a snooze-fest for many people, it may appeal to many in the field of science. It combines aspects of problem solving and real-life scientific application. Many of the games we analyze are trying to look deeper into societal implications but games like this are strictly for entertainment value for those looking for a tough puzzle or for educational value in those that would like to learn about protein bonds. Overall, the game has some importance in that it can advance research on important topics. It might be a beneficial tool to use in schools on how to teach students how to critically think in scientific situations and models.

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