Crowdsourced Computer Game Transforms Players Into Genetic Scientists

Think you’ve got the brain power to become a genetic scientist? Even if you don’t have a degree in the sciences, Phylo, a computer game, hopes to crowdsource the power of idle brains from people like you and me to solve genetic problems. The way the game is played is that players move colored tiles–each tile represents one of four nucleotides of DNA–to find the best alignment from two different species.

These particular sections of DNA, called promoter regions, determine which parts of the genome end up as traits in the organism, whether it be blue eyes or heart disease. Seeing where the genes line up across species can help biologists pinpoint the sources of genetic disorders.

“If some region is conserved across all species after alignment, it probably was conserved for some very specific reason,” Waldispuhl said. “We should be able to provide better understanding of the reason for which mutation potentially will create a disease, or why this disease appears.” Scientists say that human brains are better adapted at solving puzzles and at pattern recognition than computers. The game can be played by anyone in their free time–not just people in science and geeks.

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