In designing Foldit we sought to maximize both engagement by a wide range of players (a requirement common to all games) and the scientific relevance of the game outcomes (unique to Foldit)… We suspect that this process of co-adaptation of game and players should be applicable to similar scientific discovery games.
Protein structure prediction is a major challenge in modern biology. Part of what makes this problem difficult is there are too many possibilities to test each hypothesis individually. The scientific community has spent much effort developing algorithms, but has met limited success.
Foldit uses human game players, who are able to engage in protein structure prediction using the Foldit video game. Humans have an intuitive understanding of three-dimensional models that is difficult to replicate with a computer algorithm. Foldit players can often build protein models that traditional algorithms would overlook.
Foldit was made possible by a unique collaboration between the Baker Lab and the Center for Game Science at UW. Seth Cooper and Adrien Treuille started the design and development and coded Foldit in 2007, under the direction of principal investigators David Baker and Zoran Popović. A number of other students and staff have contributed to the project at UW and other universities.
Foldit can be downloaded for free at http://fold.it. No science background is needed to participate, and there are a number of tutorials and beginner puzzles to get you started. As players compete, their protein models are uploaded to a Foldit server, and scientists in these labs can retrieve them for further analysis. Foldit provides a way for the public to contribute directly to groundbreaking research in a meaningful way. Educators around the country use Foldit to teach biology in the classroom.
Foldit continues to assist research in the Baker lab. Recently Foldit players have assisted research projects ranging from Alzheimer’s disease to Ebola virus.