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EteRNA

EteRNA
Image: Courtesy of Stanford/Carnegie Mellon

By playing EteRNA, citizen scientists participate in creating the first large-scale library of synthetic RNA designs. Your efforts help reveal new principles for designing RNA-based switches and nanomachines--new systems for seeking and eventually controlling living cells and disease-causing viruses. By interacting with thousands of players and learning from real experimental feedback, you will be pioneering a completely new way to do science.

RNA is often called the "Dark Matter of Biology." While originally thought to be an unstable cousin of DNA, recent discoveries have shown that RNA can do amazing things. They play key roles in the fundamental processes of life and disease, from protein synthesis and HIV replication, to cellular control. However, the full biological and medical implications of these discoveries is still being worked out.

EteRNA Challenge Puzzles ask you to design RNA sequences that fold up into a target shape on your computer, similar to previous scientific discovery games such as Foldit. Many of these puzzles could be solved by existing computer programs. So why are you working on them? Two reasons. First, these puzzles provide a crucial training ground that bridges the gap between the tutorials and the Lab. Second, many existing computer programs take a huge amount of time to solve large RNAs, and you are very likely to find better, faster ways. Consider publishing your solution method, which we can code up as an automated algorithm and test against existing computer programs.

EteRNA Lab Puzzles are how Nature scores in EteRNA. The Lab asks you to solve the real RNA design problem. By actually creating your solutions, experimentally testing how they fold, and then giving you access. The Lab challenges you and your team to develop hypotheses which explain this gap--and tests you on the next rounds. By advancing and testing hypotheses about when RNAs correctly fold in vitro, you are helping scientists understand the mysteries surrounding RNA folding and eventually paving the way towards new, complex, and medically useful biomolecules out of RNA.

Scientists at the Stanford University School of Medicine and Carnegie Mellon University developed EteRNA.

Project Details

  • PRINCIPAL SCIENTIST: Rhiju Das, Assistant Professor/Adrien Treuille, Assistant Professor
  • SCIENTIST AFFILIATION: Stanford University School of Medicine/Carnegie Mellon Robotics Institute
  • DATES: Ongoing
  • PROJECT TYPE: Data Processing
  • COST: Free
  • GRADE LEVEL: All Ages
  • TIME COMMITMENT: Variable
  • HOW TO JOIN:

    Register at the EteRNA site.

See more projects in FreeData ProcessingAll Ages.

What Is Citizen Science?

Research often involves teams of scientists collaborating across continents. Now, using the power of the Internet, non-specialists are participating, too. Citizen Science falls into many categories. A pioneering project was SETI@Home, which has harnessed the idle computing time of millions of participants in the search for extraterrestrial life. Citizen scientists also act as volunteer classifiers of heavenly objects, such as in Galaxy Zoo. They make observations of the natural world, as in The Great Sunflower Project. And they even solve puzzles to design proteins, such as FoldIt. We'll add projects regularly—and please tell us about others you like as well.

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