Gamers help scientists study genetics and disease

Scientists are using a web-based video game to entice gamers to assist them in the study of genetic diseases.

The game, called Phylo and launched in November 2010, allows players to rearrange colored blocks that represent human DNA. Scientists have been studying the results and will release their findings soon. 

The game has more than 17,000 registered users and more than 350,000 solutions have been found to alignment sequence problems. According to an article on, the game was created by Dr. Jérôme Waldispuhl and his students at McGill School of Computer Science:

Waldispuhl and his students came up with the idea of using a to solve the problem of DNA multiple sequence alignment because it is a task that is difficult for computers to do well. "There are some calculations that the human brain does more efficiently than any computer can. Recognizing and sorting visual patterns fall in that category," explained Waldispuhl. "Computers are best at handling large amounts of messy data, but where we require high accuracy, we need humans. In this case, the genomes we're analyzing have already been pre-aligned by computers, but there are parts of it that are misaligned. Our goal is to identify these parts and transform the task of aligning them into a puzzle people will want to sort out."

Waldisphul also said:

"Phylo has contributed to improving our understanding of the regulation of 521 genes involved in a variety of diseases. It also confirms that difficult computational problems can be embedded in a casual game that can easily be played by people without any scientific training. What we're doing here is different from classical citizen science approaches. We aren't substituting humans for computers or asking them to compete with the machines. They are working together. It's a synergy of humans and machines that helps to solve one of the most fundamental biological problems."

If you want to give scientists a helping hand, play the game.

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