Forget Portal 2; how about solving Cancer?
A web-based video game called Phylo seems like 21st century Tetris, but it’s actually a way for players to contribute to science. The game, originally released in November 2010, allows players to arrange color blocks to match patterns representing human DNA. Over the past year, scientists have studied the solved puzzles of 17,000 players and discovered 350,000 solutions to sequence problems, giving them further insight into the genetics of Alzheimer’s, diabetes and cancer.
“There are some calculations that the human brain does more efficiently than any computer can. Recognizing and sorting visual patterns fall in that category,” explained Dr. Jerome Waldispuhl of the McGill School of Computer Science and developer of the game.
“Computers are best at handling large amounts of messy data, but where we require high accuracy, we need humans. In this case, the genomes we’re analyzing have already been pre-aligned by computers, but there are parts of it that are misaligned. Our goal is to identify these parts and transform the task of aligning them into a puzzle people will want to sort out.”
It’s easy to become addicted to Phylo, and perhaps someday the game’s solved puzzles will tell researchers why. Until then, quit wasting your spare time with Bejeweled and try your hand at some quick science. They’ve just released a mobile version for tablets, so you can make the world a better place even while waiting in line at Starbucks.