The shape of things

Foldit, the downloadable protein-folding game, has gotten a boatload of coverage:

And rightly so. I am hard-pressed to describe why without falling back on cliches like “paradigm shift” or “game changer.” But as far as I can tell, it potentially is those things. Here is a video game that has as its ambition the solution to one of the most abiding problems in biochemistry and perhaps all of science: the rules that dictate how proteins–the molecular building blocks of life–fold in three dimensions.

As a pedagogical tool, that would be extraordinary enough. But Foldit goes further: it says, “Here, inmates–the asylum is yours! Protein folding is too important to be left to protein biochemists, so have at it. You might see stuff that we don’t see.”

And they have, says co-creator Zoran Popovic:

One of the early outcomes of this was that we realized that regular people playing all over the world are way better than biochemists at this.

How many other disciplines will challenge the monastic norms of science and find creative ways to crowdsource current, seemingly intractable problems in their fields?

(protein image via)

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