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How a community of online gamers is changing basic biomedical research

How a community of online gamers is changing basic biomedical research

This weekend at the Medicine X conference, Stanford biochemist Rhiju Das, PhD, shared with the audience how he and colleagues are tapping into the online gaming community to accelerate researchers’ understanding of DNA’s once-unsung chemical cousin, RNA. Das’s laboratory partnered with scientists at Carnegie Mellon University to design a video game, called EteRNA, that allows players to design RNA molecules. Researchers synthesize the “winning” RNA sequences on a weekly basis, determine if they fold up as designed and feed the experimental findings back to the players.

The game now has more than 51,000 players, and more than 4,400 have logged enough hours playing the game to submit lab designs. These users are churning out roughly 1,000 designs on a weekly basis, but Das’ lab can only synthesize about eight each week. As Das explains in the above video, he and his team hope to solve this problem using an approach comparable to cloud computing that they call “cloud biochemistry.”

Previously: How play and games can impact the future of science and healthO’Reilly Radar Q&A looks at how games can improve healthParamecia PacMan: Researchers create video games using living organisms and Mob science: Video game, EteRNA, lets amateurs advance RNA research

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