Sunday, December 26, 2010

Phylo: crowdsourcing genetic analysis through gaming

Phylo
Projects like Stanford's Folding@Home have utilized your games console's free cycles for biological research for a few years, and with great success. But now a team from the Bioinformatics department of McGill University in Canada has put gaming itself to an even better use: matching DNA, RNA or protein sequence alignments in an effort to help biologists better understand the link between different species and find important sections of the genome. They've developed a puzzle game called 'Phylo: A Human Computing Framework for Comparative Genomics' or just Phylo for short, which crowdsources the odious task of genetic analysis. The idea is that by matching color coded blocks in a timed, score-based game, players will actually be helping match sections of genetic code between two species, aiding researchers attempting to find genetic links, common ancestors and the sources of genetic diseases.

The game itself is quite fun and gets harder as you progress. You can even compete against a computer or other players for the best score, and while there are no prizes for winning, there's a certain amount of satisfaction in playing and beating a game where you're actually doing something productive. Once you've solved a puzzle the information is sent to the University of California Santa Cruz for analysis and storage in their genome browser project, which catalogs and collates billions of genetic sequences into a user-friendly interface for scientists. The hope is that the more we know about the links between species, the more that can be done about genetic diseases and their causes. Cancer, for instance, is a serious threat to humans -- but some species have an innate ability to suppress it, and it's all down to their genetic code. You can even choose to solve puzzles related to a specific disease, bringing in a more personal edge to the game if you've got a particular hatred or interest in a certain disease.

So if you fancy playing a game during your lunch break today, why not substitute a turn of Bejeweled for a bit of Phylo, and help biologists around the world solve inter-species genetic problems and fight disease.

Download SquadPhylo: crowdsourcing genetic analysis through gaming originally appeared on Download Squad on Wed, 01 Dec 2010 15:00:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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