Gamers playing the science-based online game Foldit have recently beat trained scientists in a competition to see who could complete an accurate model of a specific protein the fastest, based on biochemical data given to both teams.
The team who led the competition says that the findings prove that gamers – or citizen scientists – can have a huge impact on fields that were once closed off to the public, and that gaming might be a great way to get more people interested in scientific studies.
“It shows that anybody with a 3D mentality, including gamers, can do something that previously only scientists did, and in doing so they can help scientific progress,” said the study’s co-author James Bardwell, from the University of Michigan.
The competition pitted 469 gamers playing Foldit, two highly trained crystallographers, two computer algorithms, and 61 undergraduate students using computer modelling programs against each other, in a battle to see who could accurately create a model of the protein YPL067C by interpreting electron-density maps.
In the end, the gamers came together to go through the painstaking trial-and-error process that comes with protein modelling and created the most accurate version of any one group.