Computational Biology

Finding the Perfect Recipe

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Science  02 Dec 2011:
Vol. 334, Issue 6060, pp. 1183-1184
DOI: 10.1126/science.334.6060.1183-d

Computer games? What a waste of time. And online multiplayer ones? Even more so. But hold on … you clearly haven't heard about “Foldit.” This free online game allows players (singly or in teams) to use simple tools (for example something the gamers know as shake, but which is in fact an automated combinatorial side chain rotamer packing tool) to fold polypeptide chains into chemically realistic three-dimensional protein structures. It is more than a useful education tool, though, as has been previously shown through the solution of the structure of a retroviral protease, and as Khatib et al. now further demonstrate. Within the game, players were allowed to codify the strategies and tricks they used to create accurate models of proteins in the form of “macros” or “recipes.” Furthermore, they could also edit and share recipes. Analyses of recipe use showed that recipes augmented—but did not substitute for—gamer strategizing, and that certain recipes spread widely through the gamer population, undergoing further modification (“evolution”) as they were adopted by more and more gamers. One of the most highly popular gamer recipes, “Blue Fuse,” not only turned out to be strikingly similar to an energy optimization algorithm developed independently by researchers but was able to outperform the researcher-developed algorithm within the context of the game, even given that the ingame scripting language was severely limited as compared to that used by the researchers. All of which hints at the power of gaming as a problem-solving tool.

Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 108, 10.1073/pnas.1115898108 (2011)

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