Time-Wasting Tip #5 (for the Overworked Grad Student)

Graduate Division

Got a long incubation time to kill? Waiting for your cells to spin? Bored in between classes? In class??

This week we have another game to play, but this time it can actually help your fellow scientist by identifying structures for proteins that have (so far) evaded crystallization studies.

Foldit is a free online game (go to www.fold.it) that lets you pinch, pull, twist and tweak protein structures to find the most stable, energetically favorable form. It’s super-intuitive, and the game helpfully translates stability into points, so you know when you’re approaching a good protein structure.

It’s social — you can play as a solo competitor or even in groups — and you can see the high scores of other players and even improve on their designs.

It’s also, surprisingly, very addicting. There are lots of proteins to work on, and if you do well, who knows, I might be reviewing your protein structure Nature paper some time soon.

No, really — in 2011, researchers published the structure of a retroviral protease previously unknown to science that had been solved by Foldit players. It was published in Nature Structural and Molecular Biology, and the players who solved it were the authors. So don’t feel bad with this time waster — you’re doing science!

Check next week for another grad-student approved distraction — suggestions are welcome!