Researchers studying the nature of crowds playing Foldit called some strategies "shocking" in how well they mimicked some of the methods already used by protein scientists.
Gamers made headlines in September for unraveling the structure of a protein central to research on AIDS. Today, in a paper published online at the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, University of Washington researchers reveal the creative power of Foldit players' strategies and compare them to the best-known scientist-developed methods.
"We enabled players to create and improve each other's best recipes to play the game. Once we looked at the variety and creativity of these recipes, we were shocked to find state-of-the-art algorithms." said Zoran Popovic, principal investigator of the Foldit Project and the Director of the Center for Game Science. Foldit is developed by the Center in collaboration with the biochemistry laboratory of David Baker.
"To us, this paper is even more exciting than the one in September," said Firas Khatib, a co-author on both papers and a researcher in the Baker lab. Baker, also principal investigator on the project, has been exploring ways to further protein structure research using distributed computing for many years with the Rosetta@home project.
By studying the most effective formal recipes or algorithms that players used to solve protein structure puzzles, the group hopes to formalize complex strategies and apply them widely to scientific problems, Khatib explained. (An algorithm is a list of instructions for a computer program.) In the game, these lists are called recipes.
"With our previous papers, we proved that a scientific-discovery game can solve long-standing scientific problems, but this paper shows how gamers codified their strategies, shared them and improved them. This is just the beginning of what Foldit players are capable of solving," explained Seth Cooper, the primary architect and co-creator o
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University of Washington