Follow us:

Brier Dudley's blog

Brier Dudley offers a critical look at technology and business issues affecting the Northwest.

May 8, 2008 at 9:48 AM

Free video game from UW: Wiggling and shaking for science

A group at the University of Washington developed a clever new way to get the public’s help with the massive computing challenge of researching cures for conditions such as HIV and Alzheimer’s.

They created a free, downloadable video game called FoldIt! that “turns protein folding into a competitive sport.”

I was skeptical, too, but after I downloaded it and played for awhile, it became addictive. The game draws out any latent obsessive-compulsive disorder you may have, encouraging you to wiggle, shake and pull 3D proteins to “fix” their shapes. A screen grab:

foldit.JPG


The time-sink is justified by knowing that your clicks are helping researchers who are trying to calculate all possible shapes for the more than 100,000 kinds of proteins in the human body.
The game is an evolution of Rosetta@home, a project that UW biochemistry professor David Baker started in 2005. It lets people around the world contribute unused computing cycles on their PCs to help calculate the different protein shapes. (Stanford has a similar, passive project called Folding@Home that works with PCs and Sony PlayStation 3 consoles).
“There are too many possibilities for the computer to go through every possible one,” Baker said in the release. “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.”
FoldIt! was created by computer scientists Seth Cooper, a doctoral student, and postdoc researcher Adrien Treuille. They worked with Baker; associate professor of computer science, Zoran Popovic; and David Salesin, a professor of computer science and engineering.
They roped in professional game designers for advice and received funding from DARPA, Microsoft, Adobe and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, and fellowships from Intel and Nvidia.
I think the team ought to mimic the “carbon credit” model and encourage people to play FoldIt! to offset the guilt and karmic imbalance they incur shooting people and aliens in mainstream video games.
Imagine how much protein-folding they’d get from players to atone for their sins playing just Grand Theft Auto IV.

Comments

COMMENTS

No personal attacks or insults, no hate speech, no profanity. Please keep the conversation civil and help us moderate this thread by reporting any abuse. See our Commenting FAQ.



The opinions expressed in reader comments are those of the author only, and do not reflect the opinions of The Seattle Times.


The Seattle Times

The door is closed, but it's not locked.

Take a minute to subscribe and continue to enjoy The Seattle Times for as little as 99 cents a week.

Subscription options ►

Already a subscriber?

We've got good news for you. Unlimited seattletimes.com content access is included with most subscriptions.

Subscriber login ►
The Seattle Times

To keep reading, you need a subscription upgrade.

We hope you have enjoyed your complimentary access. For unlimited seattletimes.com access, please upgrade your digital subscription.

Call customer service at 1.800.542.0820 for assistance with your upgrade or questions about your subscriber status.

The Seattle Times

To keep reading, you need a subscription.

We hope you have enjoyed your complimentary access. Subscribe now for unlimited access!

Subscription options ►

Already a subscriber?

We've got good news for you. Unlimited seattletimes.com content access is included with most subscriptions.

Activate Subscriber Account ►