David M. Brown's Blog

August 6, 2010

Slackers help scientists figure out protein folding

Filed under: Science,Society and culture,Technology — davidmbrowndotcom @ 4:34 am
Tags: , , ,

Biology News Net has a fascinating article on how biologists at the University of Washington have enlisted gamers to help determine complex protein structure. Billions of computers all over the galaxy are churning away constantly to figure out how the pieces of very complicated proteins will fit together after a known but horrendously long linear sequence of amino acids has folded up into the finalized protein in accordance with the dictates of all the physico-chemical jostling that yielded that ultimate configuration. But it seems that gamers playing a game called Foldit, in which they win “points based on the internal energy of the 3-D protein structure, dictated by the laws of physics,” can often make intuitive leaps in determining how structure must emerge that the computer programs can’t make. The researchers listed 57,000 “authors” (gamers) in their Nature paper on the results. (More on mind versus machine when it comes to protein folding at Wired.)

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