Gaming Takes a Genetic Twist
12/2/2010 by: Darleen Hartley
A team of bioinformaticians, who combine science, technology and information sciences, have been working on the game at McGill University in Montreal, Quebec Canada. They turned the scientific community loose on Phylo to prove its accuracy. Then, they released it for public participation. Defects in the DNA code are the basis for many human ailments. By playing, you can help unravel the mystery of diseases.
"There are some calculations that the human brain does more efficiently than any computer can, such as recognizing a face," explained lead researcher Dr. Jérôme Waldispuhl of the School of Computer Science. Patterns in genetic coding fall into that category. The game which takes its name from a medical prefix meaning type, kind, race, or tribe, uses players’ moves to analyze genetic sequence.
Dr. Alain Denise, another Bioinformatics and Computational Biology researcher at the University of Paris-Sud 11 said: "The precise genetic cause of most diseases is not known, but thanks to Phylo gamers, this research could be significantly improved". To get more people involved, they would like to integrate the game into Facebook.
The stumbling block that researchers have encountered in traditional approaches revolves around multiple sequence alignments. These alignments are a way of arranging the sequences of DNA, RNA or protein to identify regions of similarity. Multiple sequence alignment algorithms use computationally complex heuristics to align the sequences. Applying computers to the problem is overwhelming due to the roughly three billion base pairs that make up the genome.
Viewing digital representation of human genome at 2001 exhibit. Picture Credit: Getty Images
The researchers explain that by taking data which has already been aligned by a heuristic algorithm, users can optimize where the algorithm may have failed. All alignments were obtained through the UCSC Genome Browser which was developed in the Center for Biomolecular Science and Engineering at the University of California Santa Cruz [UCSC]. The alignments allow biologists to identify mutation events, as well as trace the source of certain genetic diseases.
The game will also be used to teach future genetic researchers about the field. If you would like to be involved, [in English or French] go to the website, pick a disease you want to help decode, and click Play.
Phylo, UCSC, McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada, Jérôme Waldispuhl, Alain Denise, bioinformatician, University of Paris, multiple sequence alignment, Facebook, genome, genetics, biomolecular science, University of California, Santa Cruz, Genome Browser, disease, heuristic algorithm
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