Foldit deserves its own chapter in the ongoing saga about the open R&D movement in life sciences. And if you had any doubts before-- even after players of the online protein-folding game cracked a big case concerning an HIV protein this year--researchers have now decoded how gamers share "recipes" and algorithms that are on par with the sophistication of those used in formal scientific circles.
The game's developers from the University of Washington were "shocked" with what they learned about Foldit game players in a new analysis. They studied closely 721 Foldit gamers over a three-month period and got a new perspective on how players tapped different tools to generate, collaborate on and evaluate "game-playing" recipes. A recipe called "Blue Fuse" topped the charts for its ability to help players solve problems in the game.
There are thousands of Foldit players from multiple backgrounds, which can include undiscovered geniuses à la "Good Will Hunting" or those with formal training in science and engineering. Interestingly, the creator of "Blue Fuse" goes by the gaming handle "Vertex" and told MSNBC.com that he's a retired software engineer. And his winning recipe actually uses elements of from another gamer's algorithm. Researchers noted that "Blue Fuse" is also similar to an algorithm that they developed at UW's Baker Lab called "Fast Relax."
"We enabled players to create and improve each other's best recipes to play the game," Zoran Popovic, principal investigator of the Foldit Project and the director of the Center for Game Science at UW. "Once we looked at the variety and creativity of these recipes, we were shocked to find state-of-the-art algorithms."