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Fold.it, the protein folding game, taps worldwide audience to solve difficult puzzles

A cooperative online game that puts volunteer “gamers” to work folding proteins has attracted 50,000 players whose “distributed thinking” has, in some cases, proven more powerful than computers in predicting the three-dimensional structure of proteins. Extension of these efforts could one day pay off in the design of new proteins that help fight disease, sequester carbon, or clean up the environment.

The free game, called Foldit, is the brainchild of David Baker, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute biologist, and colleagues Zoran Popovic and Seth Cooper, who are in the computer science department at the University of Washington. The online community of Foldit players is now helping the researchers as they attempt to crack “the protein-folding problem,” one of molecular biology’s toughest challenges.

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