November 25, 2010

How YOU can help science by solving puzzles

The last few posts were mainly focused on concepts in science but today I just want to let everyone know of an easy way of helping biological science. The folding and conformation of proteins is essential for their function. From the DNA sequence, we can translate out of which amino acids the protein is made up and in which order they have to go. But the final structure is much more complicated to understand because a larger number of chemical bonds and interactions have to be take into account.

The program Foldit is a distributed computing application (like SETI@home where unused processing time of your computer is donated to sorting through radiotelescope data.) The difference between SETI@home and Foldit is that Foldit is looking to the smaller structure and therefore inward instead of outward. Foldit tries to simulate how a protein will fold when it is finished. The computer time you donate will be used to calculate the possible and impossible conformations for the protein.

Even better, you can even interact! Foldit is not a passive activity but fully interactive. because they are also trying to see if humans can improve computer predictions. Each protein is given to you first in an unfolded version (much like the translated product coming from the ribosomes). With a few tutorials and tools you are already able to fold proteins in their proper and most stable form. The picture below shows you the beginning of protein puzzle 48 (taken from, links below).

The goal now is to fold it into the correct conformation as seen below.

Try it for yourself and see if you like it. Maybe next time instead of solving a crossword puzzle or doing a Sudoku, try folding some proteins and help science!

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