In a recent battle to see who could produce an accurate model of a certain protein the fastest, based on biochemical data given to both teams, gamers playing the science-based online game Foldit defeated trained scientists.
The competition’s organizing team claims that the results demonstrate how gamers, or citizen scientists, may significantly influence subjects that were previously off-limits to the general public and that gaming may be a fantastic method to spark interest in scientific studies.
The study’s co-author James Bardwell of the University of Michigan said, “It shows that everyone with a 3D mentality, including gamers, can do something that previously only scientists performed, and in doing so they may promote scientific progress.”
To determine who could most accurately model the protein YPL067C by deciphering electron-density maps, a competition pitted 469 gamers playing Foldit, two highly skilled crystallographers, two computer algorithms, and 61 undergraduate students using computer modeling programs against one another.
In the end, the players collaborated to develop the most exact version of any group by laboriously trying and failing as they modeled proteins.
The study’s researchers conclude that greater levels of teamwork and cooperation may have contributed to their achievement.
According to team member Brian Koepnick of the University of Washington, “We think this is a big deal because we show that crowd-sourced Foldit players can do it as well as, or better than, professionally trained crystallographers.” interpreting an electron-density map can be a time-consuming, error-prone process.
The team adds that the competition’s outcomes demonstrate that games may be a useful tool for teaching students about protein modeling since they inject joy and collaboration into the relatively laborious process in a manner that traditional learning does not.
Scott Horowitz, a co-author from the University of Michigan, observed that players of the game learn a lot about proteins as a result of their participation.
Students are forced to learn this for weeks on end, but Foldit players naturally pick it up since it’s enjoyable.
Even cooler, the team claims that the gamers may have discovered a novel protein type that may be in charge of regulating plaque development, which, with further research, may help us better understand Alzheimer’s.
It’s hardly the first time that researchers have sought assistance from citizen scientists.
To monitor the effects of climate change on a group of beautiful penguins, a group of researchers from the UK set up 75 cameras in Antarctica back in April. They requested the public to keep a watch on the penguins.
Also in August, 4,500 citizen scientists were enlisted by a group of UK astronomers to analyze meteorological data to determine whether a partial eclipse had any impact on weather patterns.
Reaching out to the general population enables researchers to collaborate with a larger, more meticulous team, which is advantageous.
There is also the added advantage of raising awareness of science and research.