"There are too many possibilities for the computer to go through every possible one," Baker said. "An approach like Rosetta@home does well on small proteins, but as the protein gets bigger and bigger it gets harder and harder, and the computers often fail.
"People, using their intuition, might be able to home in on the right answer much more quickly."
Rosetta@home and Foldit both use the Rosetta protein-folding software. Foldit is the first protein-folding project that asks volunteers for something other than unused processor cycles on their computers or Playstation machines. Foldit also differs from recent human-computer interactive games that use humans' ability to recognize images or interpret text. Instead, Foldit capitalizes on people's natural 3-D problem-solving skills.
The intuitive skills that make someone good at playing Foldit are not necessarily the ones that make a top biologist. Baker says his 13-year-old son is faster at folding proteins than he is. Others may be even faster.
"I imagine that there's a 12-year-old in Indonesia who can see all this in their head," Baker says.
Eventually, the researchers hope to advance science by discovering protein-folding prodigies who have natural abilities to see proteins in 3-D.
"Some people are just able to look at the game and in less than two minutes, get to the top score," said Popovic. "They can't even explain what they're doing, but somehow they're able to do it."
The game looks like a 21st-century version of Tetris, with multicolored geometric snakes filling the screen. A team that includes a half-dozen UW graduate and undergraduate students spent more than a year figuring out how to make the game both accurate and engaging. They
|Contact: Hannah Hickey|
University of Washington