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Computer game's high score could earn the Nobel Prize in medicine
Date:5/8/2008

faced some special challenges that commercial game developers don't encounter.

"We don't know what the best result is, so we can't help people or hint people toward that goal," Popovic explained. The team also couldn't arbitrarily decide to make one move worth 1,000 bonus points, since the score corresponds to the energy needed to hold the protein in that shape.

Almost 1,000 players have tested the system in recent weeks, playing informal challenges using proteins with known shapes. Starting this week, however, the developers will open the game to the public and offer proteins of unknown shapes. Also starting this week, Foldit gamers will face off against research groups around the world in a major protein-structure competition held every two years.

Beginning in the fall, Foldit problems will expand to involve creating new proteins that we might wish existed enzymes that could break up toxic waste, for example, or that would absorb carbon dioxide from the air. Computers alone cannot design a protein from scratch. The game lets the computer help out when it's a simple optimization problem the same way that computer solitaire sometimes moves the cards to clean up the table letting the player concentrate on interesting moves.

Eventually, the researchers hope to present a medical nemesis, such as HIV or malaria, and challenge players to devise a protein with just the right shape to lock into the virus and deactivate it. Winning protein designs will be synthesized in Baker's lab and tested in petri dishes. High-scoring players will be credited in scientific publications the way that top Rosetta@home contributors already are credited for their computer time.

"Long-term, I'm hoping that we can get a significant fraction of the world's population engaged in solving critical problems in world health, and doing it collaboratively and successfully through the game," Baker said. "We're trying to use the brain power of people all around the world to
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Contact: Hannah Hickey
hickeyh@u.washington.edu
206-543-2580
University of Washington
Source:Eurekalert  

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