Saturday, May 10, 2008

"Computer Game's High Score Could Earn The Nobel Prize In Medicine"

"A new game, named Foldit, turns protein folding into a competitive sport. Introductory levels teach the rules, which are the same laws of physics by which protein strands curl and twist into three-dimensional shapes -- key for biological mysteries ranging from Alzheimer's to vaccines.

After about 20 minutes of training, people feel like they're playing a video game but are actually mouse-clicking in the name of medical science. The free program is at

'We're hopefully going to change the way science is done, and who it's done by,' said Popovic, who presented the project today at the Games for Health meeting in Baltimore. 'Our ultimate goal is to have ordinary people play the game and eventually be candidates for winning the Nobel Prize.'

Proteins, of which there are more than 100,000 different kinds in the human body, form every cell, make up the immune system and set the speed of chemical reactions. We know many proteins' genetic sequence, but don't know how they fold up into complex shapes whose nooks and crannies play crucial biological roles.

Computer simulators calculate all possible protein shapes, but this is a mathematical problem so huge that all the computers in the world would take centuries to solve it. In 2005, Baker developed a project named Rosetta@home that taps into volunteers' computer time all around the world. But even 200,000 volunteers aren't enough.

'Long-term, I'm hoping that we can get a significant fraction of the world's population engaged in solving critical problems in world health, and doing it collaboratively and successfully through the game,' David Baker, a UW professor of biochemistry and Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator, said. 'We're trying to use the brain power of people all around the world to advance biomedical research.'

Foldit includes elements of multiplayer games in which people can team up, chat with other players and create online profiles. Over time the researchers will analyze people's moves to see how the top players solve puzzles. This information will be fed back into the game's design so the game's tools and format can evolve."

(A sample of protein folding variations)

Source: Computer Game's High Score Could Earn The Nobel Prize In Medicine

Will Oil be Replaced by Photosynthesis

“'This is really the first detailed picture ever obtained of the molecular mechanism behind the regulation of light harvesting energy,' Fleming said. 'We believe we will soon be in position to build a complete model of the flow of energy through the photosynthetic light harvesting system that will include how the flow is controlled. This model could then be applied to the engineering of artificial versions of photosynthesis.'”

And why would humans want to control photosynthesis?

ScienceDaily answers, "Through photosynthesis, green plants are able to harvest energy from sunlight and convert it to chemical energy at an energy transfer efficiency rate of approximately 97 percent. If scientists can create artificial versions of photosynthesis, the dream of solar power as the ultimate green and renewable source of electrical energy could be realized."

Interestingly, plants have a photon sensitivity so acute that according to Graham Fleming, the lead researcher in this study, plants "will even respond to the passing of clouds overhead.”

This is remarkable, however, it has been one of the main obstacles in the way of utilizing photosynthesis to quell vast energy consumption demands. That is, we cannot base our world on a system that's energy capacity would fluctuate with the presence and density of cloud cover, or on the other hand would overheat on really hot days - power delays and outages would be widespread.

So, the idea is by learning how the exceedingly efficient process of photosynthesis occurs with enough detail to successfully replicate it and compensate for the affects of weather fluctuations, we may be able to harness the power of the sun as plants have done for 1,300 million years.

This would virtually wipe out the global energy crisis, and impede new torrents of human created carbon dioxides from cooking Earth much further.