As Science Daily reports, researcher from the University of Washington have developed a computer game that turns protein folding into a competitive sport. The free game is called Foldit, and will, perhaps, one day lead to the first Nobel Prize won by a gamer.
The game targets a huge problem for protein research, namely the vast number of possible protein combinations. Even with all the collected computer power on the planet at the moment, it would take several centuries to work through all the protein combinations and shapes of the 100.000 proteins in the body, so the idea behind the game is that the players can develop an intution for how proteins connect and use it to target specific medical problems.
Involving the general public in a project like this instead of leaving it to trained researchers is because a lot of what goes into protein folding has nothing to do with scientific knowledge, but is rather based on an intuition for shapes. One of the protein researchers behind the game admits thats his 13-year old son is faster at folding proteins than he is, and the developers hope to discover people with a natural knack for ‘seeing’ protein shapes through the game.
This game a startling example both of how scientific practices are changing, and how protein research requires a unique set of skills that have to do with intuition, spatial awareness and a sense of physical shapes.