Fold protein puzzles and contribute to critical scientific research.
Created by various departments and labs from the University of Washington, Foldit explores the process by which living beings create the primary structure of proteins. The protein biosynthesis is reasonably well understood, as is the means by which proteins are encoded as DNA. Determining how the primary structure of a protein turns into a functioning three-dimensional structure – how the molecule “folds” – is more difficult; the general process is known, but predicting protein structures is computationally demanding.
Foldit is an attempt to apply the human brain’s natural three-dimensional pattern matching abilities to this problem. Current puzzles are based on well-understood proteins; by analyzing the ways in which humans intuitively approach these puzzles in the game, researchers hope to improve the algorithms employed by existing protein-folding software. As more players complete more puzzles, the researchers can create a better understanding of these protein structures and craft new medicines to promote better health and cure disease. The success of Foldit comes from the constant feedback between developers and the community and the constant stream of new puzzles.