Mom wanted you to be a doctor, but you were too busy playing videogames to take the MCATs? Now is your chance to make amends.
Foldit, a new online game, taps our inner competitive streak to advance a key area of medicine: the understanding of how proteins form. Proteins are the engines of cellular life—they are, in layman’s terms, what make cells work—and hold the secret to many of the world’s worst viruses. Viruses use particular proteins to reproduce, and by figuring out the precise shape of these proteins, we’ll be well on our way to a cure. The problem, however, is that computers, for all their powers, aren’t terribly adept at determining the shape of proteins. That’s where you come in.
At Foldit, researchers post initial guesses of how a protein might be shaped, and challenge players to improve the guesses by making the virtual protein more compact (proteins naturally form the most compact shape possible). The more compact your protein model, the higher your score. It may not be as fun as Halo, but it’s a lot more helpful.