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Biotech Science Games

Gamers Beat Algorithms At Finding Protein Structures 80

jamie writes "Researchers have turned the biochemical challenge of figuring out protein folding structures into a computer game. The best players can beat a computerized algorithm by rapidly recognizing problems that the computer can't fix. From the article: 'By tracing the actions of the best players, the authors were able to figure out how the humans' excellent pattern recognition abilities gave them an edge over the computer. For example, people were very good about detecting a hydrophobic amino acid when it stuck out from the protein's surface, instead of being buried internally, and they were willing to rearrange the structure's internals in order to tuck the offending amino acid back inside. Those sorts of extensive rearrangements were beyond Rosetta's abilities, since the energy changes involved in the transitions are so large.'"
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Gamers Beat Algorithms At Finding Protein Structures

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  • by SuperKendall ( 25149 ) on Wednesday August 04, 2010 @08:55PM (#33145868)

    I thought Foldit was actually a pretty fun game and a great idea when it came out, and now that I'm reminded of it I'll have to go back and play some more. It's fantastic to have validation that humans are still excellent pattern recognition engines compared even to very modern algorithms and powerful computers.

    But to extend the idea more generally, seems rather hard. Foldit had the great insight to take you to an algorithmically close starting place and let you complete the final adjustments - in that way the algorithm itself is as much a part of the team as the detail or adjustment members they were talking about.

    I wonder how many other ideas can be so easily brought to a place close enough that a human can recognize patterns enough to be of use in a final solution. I look forward to seeing what astronomers come up with...

  • by nickersonm ( 1646933 ) on Wednesday August 04, 2010 @08:59PM (#33145902)

    While not quite a game, astronomers already take advantage of semiautomated human pattern recognition: []

  • by blahplusplus ( 757119 ) on Wednesday August 04, 2010 @09:05PM (#33145932)

    "e. It's fantastic to have validation that humans are still excellent pattern recognition engines compared even to very modern algorithms and powerful computers."

    Computers primary advantage is speed, for all our pattern recognition capability are mathematical capability is pretty limited besides modern computers. I think it's our ability to stitch or see things as wholes instead of millions of unconnected parts that gives us an advantage - we can recognize things like context that speed up the process significantly whether we are consciously aware or unconsciously recognizing context.

  • by SuperKendall ( 25149 ) on Wednesday August 04, 2010 @09:29PM (#33146086)

    That was exactly the kind of thing I was looking for to see how the ideas would translate to astronomy...

    However the clients (or at least the client I tried) are not great. One of the nice things about Foldit was the UI for manipulations was really well thought out and made it easy to manipulate a pretty complex 3D object, also easy to undo flawed changes. In the galaxy matching game at the link you, had, I got one galaxy pair close to a match but one of the galaxy had spiral arms reversed from the real image, that I could not figure out how to correct for - and then after I clicked on "mass" the whole thing became an oval instead of a spiral, and would not revert no matter how I adjusted things.

    I hope they are seeking some funding to expand work on clients for that because they could get some useful analysis from that I think.

  • by CastrTroy ( 595695 ) on Wednesday August 04, 2010 @09:30PM (#33146094) Homepage
    The really funny part is that somebody programmed a bot to play the game, and it's doing better than the researcher's algorithm.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 05, 2010 @10:15AM (#33149542)

    Good lord. Why couldn't we have used this in Biochemistry class?? Just last year they had us using this horrid program called 'O' as the official modeling software for one of our sections. There were some specific questions that had to be answered from the 'O' perspective, but everyone was switching back and forth to jMol so that we could actually see something informative..

    I know I know, when you were young molecular modeling meant hand-crafted stick figures. I'll get off your lawn now!

1 Mole = 007 Secret Agents