Video game players take on deadly sepsis for U.S. military

Crowdsourcing R&D thrives again in the online Foldit community. This time, a unit of the U.S. Department of Defense has challenged the Foldit video gamers to craft proteins in a virtual online setting that bind to pathogens in the blood, to bolster research of sepsis treatments.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has funded the Foldit game, originally developed at the University of Washington, as the online game's community of mostly non-scientists tackles the sepsis challenge. Sepsis, a severe inflammatory condition that can be deadly, afflicts many members of the military, DARPA said in a release.

The DARPA vote of confidence fuels ongoing interest in tapping non-experts via online platforms to solve R&D riddles. Foldit, for example, has churned out increasingly sophisticated scientific problems for its players to solve, including the design of protein drugs. And the creators of the game have published evidence that their online community deserves some serious consideration in scientific community. Its gamers previously made quick work of a challenging protein puzzle related to AIDS research that had traditional scientists stumped for years.

In the DARPA challenge, players will be given the structure of the Mannose-Binding Lectin to come up with upgrades to the protein as part of a system that involves reagents to snap up pathogens in the bloodstream. The agency wants scientists from the University of Washington and Wyss Institute at Harvard University to evaluate the Foldit players' work.

- here's the release

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