A new online game harnesses the computational power of idle brains to help decipher the origins of genetic diseases.
The game, called Phylo, stands on the shoulders of crowdsourced science giants like the protein-folding game Foldit and the celestial object identification powerhouse Galaxy Zoo. Each project takes advantage of humans' prowess at pattern recognition, something computers are notoriously terrible at.
"There are some tasks that humans can do better than computers, like solving puzzles," said bioinformatics expert Jerome Waldispuhl of McGill University, one of Phylo's project leaders. The game was officially launched Nov. 29.
Phylo players move colored squares representing the four nucleotides of DNA to find the best alignment between snippets of DNA from two different species. These particular sections of DNA, called promoter regions, determine which parts of the genome end up as traits in the organism, whether it be blue eyes or heart disease.
Seeing where the genes line up across species can help biologists pinpoint the sources of genetic disorders. …
Unlike in Foldit or Galaxy Zoo, the science in Phylo is pretty well hidden. It feels like an abstract puzzle game, with colorful shapes and jazzy music. That was deliberate, Waldispuhl says.
"We don't want to be restricted only to the people interested in science," he said. Science geeks won't need as much convincing to play a game that helps research move forward, he says. The Phylo developers want the game to appeal to people who would otherwise play Farmville. …
You can play Phylo right now. Not quite sure I get it… Ok, push all rows all the way to the left, and then try to match colors, but mostly minimize the number of gaps total. Nice that I would be helping fight a tooth disease. 🙂