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University of Washington
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Foldit is an experimental video game about protein folding, developed as a collaboration between the University of Washington's departments of Computer Science and Engineering and Biochemistry (many of the same people who created Rosetta@home). The first public beta was released in May 2008. Foldit follows the games-with-a-purpose paradigm in which players, as a side effect of playing, help solve problems that computers cannot solve very well. An earlier example of this paradigm is the ESP Game (aka the Google Image Labeler).

Foldit provides a series of tutorials in which the user manipulates simple protein-like structures, and a periodically updated set of puzzles based on real proteins. The application displays a graphical representation of the protein's structure which the user is able to manipulate with the aid of a set of tools.

As the structure is modified, a "score" is calculated based on how well-folded the protein is, and a list of high scores for each puzzle is maintained. Foldit users may create and join groups, and share puzzle solutions with each other; a separate list of group high scores is maintained.

The process by which living beings create the primary structure of proteins, protein biosynthesis, is reasonably well understood, as is the means by which proteins are encoded as DNA. Determining how the primary structure of a protein turns into a functioning three-dimensional structure – how the molecule "folds" – is more difficult; the general process is known, but predicting protein structures is computationally demanding.

Foldit is an attempt to apply the human brain's natural three-dimensional pattern matching abilities to this problem. Current puzzles are based on well-understood proteins; by analysing the ways in which humans intuitively approach these puzzles, researchers hope to improve the algorithms employed by existing protein-folding software. In 2008, the Foldit project submitted solutions to the CASP protein structure prediction contest; results were announced in early 2009.

Foldit is a mix of crowdsourcing and distributed computing.

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