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Games for science

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Published: 10 Jan 2013

Scientists are using video games to tap the collective intelligence of people around the world, while doctors and educators are turning to games to treat and teach. […] “MSA is probably one of the most important tools in bioinformatics today,” says Jérôme Waldispühl, a bioinformatician at McGill University in Montreal, Canada. But the computer algorithms employed to perform MSA don’t guarantee perfect accuracy, so Waldispühl and colleagues created Phylo — an online game that transforms the MSA problem into a simple puzzle that anyone can play. The aim of the game is to improve the sequence alignments of the promoter regions of hundreds of disease-related genes from 44 vertebrate species. The sequences are presented as several rows of blocks, color-coded to represent the four bases of DNA, and players shift the sequences left or right in order to find the best possible match for up to eight different species at a time. Within 7 months of its November 2010 release, Phylo had more than 12,000 registered users and 3,000 regular players. And they’ve proven themselves worthy: 70 percent of the roughly 350,000 MSA solutions generated by the Phylo community are more accurate than those generated by the best computer algorithm (PLOS ONE, 7:e31362, 2012). “The results returned by the players were much better than what we hoped for,” says Waldispühl. “The human brain has evolved to be very good at recognizing visual patterns, and we can benefit from that.” …

Read more at The Scientist

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