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As regular readers of mine will know, I have something of a jones for citizen science projects. Something of a substantial one, in fact.

 

And so, it’s with enormous joy that I’d like to introduce y’all to another member of the flock: eteRNA. In this online ‘game’, you get to help advance science by designing RNA*, which is then, if you win the weekly competition, synthesized (i.e. MADE) and scored on how well it folds. The idea is to create the first large-scale library of RNA designs.

The tagline of this online ‘game’ says it all, really: “Played by Humans, scored by Nature”.

Hopefully, you’re thinking at this point of another protein folding game:  Foldit?  Well, eteRNA’s founders hope that it’ll garner similar successes – remember that Foldit has been responsible for some serious scientific publications! De Treuille of Carnegie Mellon university (one of the masterminds behind the game) says: ““This [project] is like putting a molecular chess game in people’s hands at a massive level…I think of this as opening up science. I think we are democratizing science.”

eteRNA’s been out since early 2011 (I can’t believe I didn’t know about it ’til now!), and in that period of time has amassed over 38,000 registered users.

Anyhoo, have a play of it! Not only will you be having fun, but you’ll also be contributing to science, and helping to blur the line between professional and amateur, gamer and scientist. A terribly Renaissance thing to do :)

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* Ribonucleic acid. RNA is responsible for moving information from our DNA out to the teensy factories which make proteins and enzymes. RNA also gets used in its raw form directly on DNA (to do various things), and has a host of other functions. It’s _seriously_ clever stuff.

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Also, read this Wired article on the subject: New Videogame Lets Amateur Researchers Mess With RNA