Foldit Online Protein Puzzle

Foldit Online Protein Puzzle

Inside your cells, proteins allow your body to break down food to power your muscles, send signals through your brain that control the body, and transport nutrients through your blood. Every protein consists of a long chain of joined-together amino acids, which are small molecules made up of atoms of carbon, oxygen, nitrogen, sulfur and hydrogen. Small proteins can consist of 100 amino acids, whereas some human proteins are much larger, with thousands of amino acids.

Each type of protein folds up into a very specific shape, which specifies the protein's function. The Foldit exploration puzzle game attempts to predict the structure of a protein by taking advantage of our puzzle-solving intuitions and having people play competitively to fold the best proteins. Players can also design brand new proteins that could help prevent or treat important diseases.

Another objective of the project is to find new proteins that can help in turning plants into fuel. For this to happen plant material must be broken down (this is currently done by microbial enzymes—proteins—called "cellulases").

This game is a product of a collaboration between University of Washington Departments of Computer Science & Engineering and Biochemistry.

Project Details

  • SCIENTIST AFFILIATION: University of Washington at Seattle
  • DATES: Ongoing
  • PROJECT TYPE: Data Processing
  • COST: Free
  • GRADE LEVEL: All Ages

    Download Foldit software from the game's Web site.

    For additional information, contact David Baker, biochemist, University of Washington at Seattle,

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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