Thursday, January 30, 2014

Gamers-turned Scientists

I wonder if soon you will find this video game on your Xbox. Yes, in my micro-world at science publishing, Crowdsourcing research is being tossed around as an idea on how to get those much needed funding in a climate that's experiencing a long dry spell. But this took my breath away. In which world does Biochemistry and Gaming go together and get funded too?  Sure, I've already written about having fun in the lab, and making a biotic game out of paramecium here, and there's also FoldIt mostly for biochemists who want to play with protein folding on their spare time, but EteRNA is different. It allows people who do not have PhD or science background for that matter try their hands at solving complex ribonucleic acid (RNA) structures. Who would have thought that RNA will be the next hot videogame??
Coming from the same group that developed FoldIt, EteRNA was developed by an Assistant Professor of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University to challenge gamers in solving complex scientific problems. Ah! My husband, a CMU alumni, will surely be proud of this one. And yes, that's the same university that gave you Spock 2.0, Zachary Quinto. This university just oozes of geek charm.  What can I say?

What is EteRNA about? I especially like this tag line "Your efforts will help reveal new principles for designing RNA-based switches and nanomachines -- new systems for seeking and eventually controlling living cells and disease-causing viruses. By interacting with thousands of players and learning from real experimental feedback, you will be pioneering a completely new way to do science. Join the global laboratory!" And this:

What good stuff am I contributing by playing?

Besides purely biochemical advances, EteRNA is a radical experiment in citizen involvement in cutting-edge laboratory science.
In my mind, EteRNA achieve opposite what most games usually do.  I always think of games as a medium that transport you to another dimension; to create that fantastic world, even in an era of your choosing.  Eterna does the opposite - it brings gamers from the virtual world to reality.  What they do with this game is actually applied science.  The result - players, young and old, discover new rules in RNA folding that the scientific community did not know before. Of course, there's no royalty, but hey, high score is what gamers go for right? And as a bonus, they are now co-authors of a paper published in a top tier publication, PNAS. How many authors in all? 37,542 authors, only 10 of whom are scientist.  Congratulations to all 37,542 of you!

1 comment:

  1. I was thinking that I'm proud of this one as soon as I saw CMU mentioned, and even before I got to the next sentance, which said that I'd be proud of this one. Time for an article on spousal mind reading.

    -Jen's hubby