Hoards of gamers with no genomics knowledge are helping scientists identify the DNA sequences most critical to species survival. It is also showing how human intelligence can still come out top when pitted against a computer.
The aim of the game, which is called Phylo, is to resolve the ‘multiple sequence alignment’ (MSA) problem. Aligning DNA sequences from different species enables us to identify those DNA sequences that have survived across species, which in turn tells us which DNA sequences are more important to the function of a specific gene.
Computer algorithms can do rough alignments of sequences across species, but they rarely get the answer spot on. However, gamers producing roughly 350,000 solutions to various MSA problems have beaten the accuracy of alignments from MULTIZ in roughly 70 per cent of the sequences they manipulated. Unlike similar games aimed at solving biological problems, Phlyo can be played by people with no prior biochemical knowledge.
The game’s developers are planning to allow researchers to submit DNA, RNA or protein segments from different species that they would like players to line up.