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Predicting protein structures with a multiplayer online game.

People exert large amounts of problem-solving effort playing computer games. Simple image- and text-recognition tasks have been successfully 'crowd-sourced' through games, but it is not clear if more complex scientific problems can be solved with human-directed computing. Protein structure prediction is one such problem: locating the biologically relevant native conformation of a protein is a formidable computational challenge given the very large size of the search space. Here we describe Foldit, a multiplayer online game that engages non-scientists in solving hard prediction problems. Foldit players interact with protein structures using direct manipulation tools and user-friendly versions of algorithms from the Rosetta structure prediction methodology, while they compete and collaborate to optimize the computed energy. We show that top-ranked Foldit players excel at solving challenging structure refinement problems in which substantial backbone rearrangements are necessary to achieve the burial of hydrophobic residues. Players working collaboratively develop a rich assortment of new strategies and algorithms; unlike computational approaches, they explore not only the conformational space but also the space of possible search strategies. The integration of human visual problem-solving and strategy development capabilities with traditional computational algorithms through interactive multiplayer games is a powerful new approach to solving computationally-limited scientific problems.

Pubmed ID: 20686574


  • Cooper S
  • Khatib F
  • Treuille A
  • Barbero J
  • Lee J
  • Beenen M
  • Leaver-Fay A
  • Baker D
  • Popović Z
  • Players F



Publication Data

August 5, 2010

Associated Grants

  • Agency: Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Id:
  • Agency: Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Id:

Mesh Terms

  • Algorithms
  • Computational Biology
  • Computer Graphics
  • Computer Simulation
  • Cooperative Behavior
  • Cues
  • Games, Experimental
  • Group Processes
  • Humans
  • Hydrogen Bonding
  • Hydrophobic and Hydrophilic Interactions
  • Imaging, Three-Dimensional
  • Internet
  • Leisure Activities
  • Models, Molecular
  • Nuclear Magnetic Resonance, Biomolecular
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Problem Solving
  • Protein Conformation
  • Protein Folding
  • Proteins
  • Stochastic Processes
  • Thermodynamics