Online Gamers Achieve First Crowd-Sourced Redesign of Protein
Obsessive gamers’ hours at the computer have now topped scientists’ efforts to improve a model enzyme, in what researchers say is the first crowdsourced redesign of a protein. The online game Foldit allows players to fiddle at folding proteins on their home computers in search of the best-scoring (lowest-energy) configurations.
Researchers have previously reported successes by Foldit players in folding proteins, but the latest work moves into the realm of protein design, a more open-ended problem. By posing a series of puzzles to Foldit players and then testing variations on the players’ best designs in the lab, scientists have created an enzyme with more than 18-fold higher activity than the original. The project has progressed from volunteers donating their computers’ spare processing power for protein-structure research, to actively predicting protein structures, and now to designing new proteins.