02 December 2010

Play Phylo – help the geneticists

Gamers were attracted to genetic researchTape.
<url> based on the materials of Wired: Computer Game Makes You a Genetic Scientist.

Scientists have developed an online computer game Phylo, in which users are required to compare DNA sequences in genes. You can play the game here (you just have to squint for a long time to find the words “click here” at the end of the text, highly artistically written in dark gray on black).

The interface of the game is made in such a way that it looks like an ordinary puzzle. Users are offered several rows of squares of different colors arranged under each other. The player needs to re-sort these sequences so that the squares of the same color are located under each other. To do this, you can move the squares horizontally, but you cannot change their order. It is almost never possible to align the sequences so that all the squares of the same color are under each other. For each gap or color discrepancy, the player is charged a penalty. The task of the game is to align the sequences and score more points than originally scored by the computer.

The square of each color corresponds to one of the types of nucleotides – elementary "bricks" that make up DNA. In total, there are four varieties of them, denoted by the letters A, T, G and C. The sequences offered to users are fragments of homologous (having a common origin and similar sequences of nitrogenous bases) genes of various organisms. For example, in the upper row there may be a fragment of a human gene, and in the lower row there may be a similar or closely related mouse gene.

The authors of the game decided to involve gamers in comparing genetic sequences, since people cope with solving such problems better than machines. Comparison of gene sequences in different organisms allows us to clarify their evolution, as well as to identify the most important genes for living systems – they usually change very little from generation to generation.

The creators of Phylo said that they deliberately made the interface as unscientific as possible so that not only people who are fond of science would play their game. As the authors emphasize, they tried to ensure that, while playing, "people did not think about biology, but simply had fun and had fun."

Phylo is not the first game where users are invited to participate in solving scientific problems. For example, in the Foldit game created by American biologists, gamers select a three-dimensional structure of proteins. Recently it turned out that they cope with this better than supercomputers (Fold.it : playing protein folding).

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