Instead of spending computer time planting corn or throwing birds around, why not put your clicks and swipes to use solving puzzles involving proteins?
Proteins are extraordinarily important in biology: they are present in animals, humans, bacteria, and viruses. There are hundreds of different types, and they all have different roles: everything from acting as catalysts for biochemical reactions, to breaking down food, to sending signals to the brain. They’re also incredibly complicated structures. Proteins are made up of amino acids, and a protein might have 100 or it might have 1000 amino acids.
Knowing how a protein folds up, or in other words, what shape it takes, is critical to knowing how drugs might interact with it, and the ‘protein folding problem’ is one of the toughest facing biology at the moment. Researchers are attacking the problem two ways: with computers and the Rosetta@Home project, and with humans and a cool game called Foldit.
With Foldit, you can play with a protein model on screen and attempt to fold it up. You’ll want to avoid creating empty spaces, keep the sidechains that don’t like water on the inside, keep the sidechains that do like water on the outside, and make sure you aren’t trying to have two atoms occupying the same space at the same time. In other words, this is a 3d jigsaw puzzle like nothing you’ve ever done before.