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Man Vs Machine

We all know of the SETI@home project, where since 1999 we have been able to donate our computers unused resources to download and analyzes radio telescope data to assist in the search for aliens. Biologists got in on distributed computing too and launched Folding@home and rosetta@home where computers and next generation consoles (PS3s) are used to try and predict protein folding.

However due to the nature of proteins and the complex interactions which they undergo, writing accurate algorithms to try and determine the correct structure is difficult, so since May researches at the University of Washington have decided to harness the power of online gamers and scientist who spend too much time on their computers, oh and possibly the bored graduate student who wants to look like they are doing work.

Foldit presents an unfolded protein and the user then has to wiggle, shake and move the protein into the optimal configuration, as you move towards the optimal structure you are awarded points. So far 60 proteins have been released for competition, and around 600 people registered to fold, in less than 2 months, it seems to have captured the interest of a lot of people.

For players without a biochemistry background the learning curve is step, but biochemistry is not a prerequisite for success, because it is possible to fold the proteins after going through the tutorial. Most of the online players are from non science backgrounds, showing that this tool really is harnessing the power of gamers.

Whether it folds proteins more accurately, and faster than computer based methods is yet to be seen

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