January 16, 2011

Playing with DNA can be fun!

Happy New Year to everyone and although it is a little late (I know, I know) I thought we start it with a play section again. I am sure there was an uproar among all the geneticists that I choose a protein game for the first play post and not something with DNA. Also, the last game was a bit on the complicated side so today I want to introduce you to Phylo.

Phylo is a small flash game written by researchers from McGill University. They gave an important tool of genetic scientists, the so called Multiple Sequence Alignments, a bit more playful note. Multiple Sequence Alignments are used to see how similiar sequences from different species are and are therefore used to construct a tree of life starting from the origin of life. By seeing how similar sequences are, the relationship of species is revealed and how on species evolved out of another.

Since DNA is only composed of the four bases (Adenine, Cytosine, Guanine and Thymidine), Phylo replaces these building blocks by colored bricks. Your task is now to align two or more sequences to each other in that way that gaps in the sequence are minimized and a maximum of bricks of the same color are aligned. The program automatically scores you against a target value.

Normally this is done by computers which are good for a random aligning brute force approach but the human mind is a master in pattern recognition. Sometimes people can score higher than the computer just by intuition and a general feeling of what looks right. So to avoid spending an ungodly amount of money, they just harvest your free brainpower when you are taking a break and just wanna play something. So give it a try and see if you can help science in your lunch break.

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