One on one, a scientific expert beats the casual gamer hands down. MalariaSpot, an online game that tests a player's ability to count malaria parasites in digital images, shows how the efforts of multiple laypeople equal near-perfect performance. (Players are also treated to so-so game music.)

Developed by researchers from the Technical University of Madrid in Spain, MalariaSpot brings the power of crowdsourcing gamers to the overwhelming malaria epidemic. The disease killed 655,000 people in 2010, with 90% of the fatalities in Africa claiming the lives of small children. And with some 600,000 new cases a day, there's tremendous demand for experts to assess the severity of the disease in patients.

According to creators of MalariaSpot, an expert spends more than 20 minutes counting parasites in blood smears. The game shows how a gang of amateurs can tackle parasite counting of digital images. In the Journal of Medical Internet Research, the developers report that the scores across 22 games played by laypeople showed more than 99% counting accuracy. (Take it from an amateur, once you draw a bead on the micromonsters, they're hard to miss.)

The findings from the game fuel arguments in favor of using telemedicine approaches, involving both experts and nonexperts, to provide routine diagnosis.

If MalariaSpot wins you over, you might want to try playing MOLT, an online game from University of California, Los Angeles, researchers, which challenges players to identify malaria-infected red blood cells. 

"If you just look at one person's response, it may be OK, but that one person will inevitably make some mistakes," Aydogan Ozcan, a UCLA associate professor of electrical engineering and bioengineering involved in creating MOLT, said in a press release. "But if you combine 10 to 20, maybe 50 nonexpert gamers together, you improve your accuracy greatly in terms of analysis."

For more:
Crowdsourcing tool tapped to spot malaria


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