Tuesday, August 17, 2010

"Social" science

A novel kind of crowd-sourcing is described in: In a Video Game, Tackling the Complexities of Protein Folding

"Proteins are essentially biological nanomachines that carry out myriad functions in the body, and biologists have long sought to understand how the long chains of amino acids that make up each protein fold into their specific configurations.

"In May 2008, researchers at the University of Washington made a protein-folding video game called Foldit freely available via the Internet. The game, which was competitive and offered the puzzle-solving qualities of a game like Rubik’s Cube, quickly attracted a dedicated following of thousands of players.

"The success of the Foldit players, the researchers report in the current issue of Nature, shows that nonscientists can collaborate to develop new strategies and algorithms that are distinct from traditional software solutions to the challenge of protein folding.

"The researchers took pains to credit the volunteers who competed at Foldit in the last two years, listing “Foldit players” at the end of the report’s author list and noting that more than 57,000 players “contributed extensively through their feedback and gameplay.” "

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