Over the past week, I helped world renowned scientists from Carnegie Mellon University discover new ways to fold RNA molecules, adding to their understanding of RNA’s biological activity and contributing to the storehouse of knowledge that may eventually shed light on the origins of life. What did you do?
I did this playing an online video game (in my spare time) called EteRNA, which I learned about at Crowdsourcing: The Art and Science of Open Innovation – an event held at the NIH last week. The video game harnesses the wisdom and enthusiasm of amateur biologists by asking them to compete against each other to create the best synthetic RNA molecule designs. Players are rewarded with increased rankings and bragging rights. Top designs are chosen weekly and the molecules are actually synthesized by scientists at Stanford and scored based on their ability to function properly in real life environments. The EteRNA community’s collective effort could have significant medical and scientific applications.
According to research lead Dr. Adrien Treuille, the success of the game was built largely upon the enthusiasm and connectedness of the community of gamers, not just their collective brainpower. They chat, talk trash, share ideas and best practices on forums, contribute to the visibility of the University and its RNA research, and are “part of the RNA revolution”. Without the ongoing engagement of the community, Treuille’s research would not be as successful (he acknowledged this last year by crediting his players as a contributing author in a peer-reviewed article in Nature). Read the rest of this entry »