Video game lends cutting edge to genetic research

December 7th, 2011 - 6:48 pm ICT by IANS  

Toronto, Dec 7 (IANS) A video game known as Phylo has lent a cutting edge to genetic research, especially understanding the role DNA plays in Alzheimer’s, diabetes and cancer, reveals a study.

The web-based video game has been developed by Jerôme Waldispuhl of the McGill School of Computer Science along with collaborator Mathieu Blanchette.

Phylo is designed to allow gamers to contribute to scientific research by arranging multiple sequences of coloured blocks that represent human DNA.

Waldispuhl and his students came up with the idea to solve the problem of DNA multiple sequence alignment because it is a task that is difficult for computers to do well, according to a statement by the university.

“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 are analyzing have already been pre-aligned by computers, but there are parts of it that are misaligned,” he added.

By looking at the similarities and differences between these DNA sequences, scientists are able to gain new insights into a variety of genetically-based diseases.

Over the past year, Phylo’s 17,000 registered users have been able to simply play the game for fun or choose to help decode a particular genetic disease.

“A lot of people said they enjoyed playing a game which could help to trace the origin of a specific disease like epilepsy,” said Waldispuhl.

So far, Phylo has been working very well. Since the game was launched in November 2010, researchers have received more than 350,000 solutions to alignment sequence problems.

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