Here’s a great talk by Seth Cooper and Firas Khatib (University of Washington) who describe the massive possibilities of crowdsourced games like Foldit (“Solve Puzzles for Science“) at TEDx Panthéon Sorbonne. Foldit, which results from part of an experimental research project from the University of Washington, is an online puzzle video game about protein folding centered around folding the structure of selected proteins to the best of the player’s ability (see it in action in this video).
It received big coverage recently when Foldit gamers have helped unlock the structure of an AIDS-related enzyme that the scientific community had been unable to unlock for a decade. The resulting research paper, Crystal structure of a monomeric retroviral protease solved by protein folding game players (PDF), has been published in Nature and is co-authored by the participating Foldit teams “Foldit Contenders Group” and “Foldit Void Crushers Group.” A great example of the power of crowd-based collaboration!
Update (Feb 12th 2013): Another research paper has just been published in Nature, showing that using crowdsourcing platforms such as TopCoder, an alternative to Foldit, yields a whopping 970 fold increase in speed for big data genomics sequencing algorithm. Here’s the citation: Lakhani, K. R., Boudreau, K. J., Loh, P.-R., Backstrom, L., Baldwin, C., Lonstein, E., Lydon, M., et al. (2013). Prize-based contests can provide solutions to computational biology problems. Nature biotechnology, 31(2), 108–11. doi:10.1038/nbt.2495