FoldIt (at http://Fold.It ) is a game designed to teach you how to fold proteins. While it’s designed as a game, the purpose is serious. Finding the correct protein configuration offers solutions for curing many diseases. Theright protein can lock onto molecules and viruses that are causing the problem, enabling them to be removed. Think of it as fitting the pieces in a jigsaw puzzle, which in the case of proteins involves hundreds


 of thousands of pieces.

FoldIt starts with three-dimensional models of known proteins and asks you to try to twist them into the optimum shape for attaching to other molecules. This may sound like a job  for cellular biologists but because it’s designed as a game, you can get pretty good at it in about 15 minutes. Joy was soon folding proteins as if they had just come out of the drier, eventually refining one that had more than 8,000 possible shapes.

The program was developed by two graduate students at the University of Washington and David Baker, the biochemist in charge of the University’s Baker Labs. Baker says his 13-year-old son is already better at determining protein shapes than he is, and in some ways, better than an army of computers. Baker has developed a project called Rosetta@Home that taps into idle PCs to calculate all possible protein shapes.  We joined a similar network a couple years ago called the “ .”

There are 200,000 volunteers in the Rostta@home project, but so far, they haven’t been enough. The mathematical problem is so huge that all the computers in the world could take centuries to solve it. “People, who have intuition, might be able to home in on the right answer much more quickly, “ Baker says. is funded by DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency), Intel, Adobe, Microsoft, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and Nvidia.

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