Laufer Center Seminar
Department of Computer and Information Science
University of Massachusetts Dartmouth
Foldit: Scientific discovery by protein folding game players
Can the brainpower of humans worldwide be brought to bear on critical problems posed in computational biology? Yes! I have worked with and studied how citizen scientists, most of whom have little or no prior biochemistry experience, have uncovered knowledge that eluded scientists for years. Players of the online protein folding video game Foldit have been able to determine a crystal structure of a previously unsolved protein, as well as enhancing the activity of a designed enzyme. Game-playing humans have been most successful in the refinement of partially correct models, such as the refinement category in the last tw CASP experiments. As this restricts the usefulness of player-driven folding to starting models that are already close to the native, we set out to see if participants of the online multiplayer game Foldit could benefit from using electron density data that was too poor for PHENIX AutoBuild to refine. Despite starting Foldit players with an extended chain as a starting model—the exact opposite of refinement—a select group of players have been able to produce very accurate models using electron density information not good enough for PHENIX AutoBuild. These exciting results demonstrate the combined power of humans and computers by introducing a new approach: distributed computing driven by human intuition.