Gaming for the Cure

It was only a matter of time. As the line between the virtual world and the real word continues to blur, Carnegie Mellon and Stanford University developed the first online game that connects the two.

The game’s called EteRNA. The goal is to uncover principles for designing molecules of RNA.

Biologists believe RNA may be the key regulator of everything that happens in living cells, so understanding its design is critical. It may even prove useful for treating or controlling such diseases as HIV.

Want to help? Play the game.

Players with the best virtual RNA designs – i.e. designs that can be rendered as real, physical molecules – get the most points. Then each week’s top designs are actually synthesized in a biochemistry laboratory.

It’s in the lab where researchers see if the resulting molecules fold themselves into the 3D shapes predicted by computer models. Since EteRNA enlists the help of non-experts to uncover mysterious RNA design principles, it leaves the final scoring up to nature.

“And nature is one tough umpire,” notes CMU’s Adrien Treuille.

Treuille is an assistant professor of computer science at CMU. He leads the EteRNA project with Rhiju Das, assistant professor of biochemistry at Stanford.

Read more at cmu.edu and The New York Times. Or check out videos on the topic – What Have We Learned from EteRNA? and How Was EteRNA Created?

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