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FEATURED PROJECT: Puzzles and proteins - joining forces to decipher and defeat COVID19

June 8, 2020, 10:44 a.m.

Foldit (Solve Puzzles for Science) 

University of Washington, Centre for Game Science, Department of Biochemistry, USA 

For those who have a keen interest in puzzles and video games, the FoldIt online platform allows you to contribute to the fight against the coronavirus pandemic. This website, which has been established since 2008, allows users to help predict protein structures, which is essential for the understanding of the biological function of a protein. As so much remains unknown about the biology of the COVID19 virus during this pandemic, such a project could prove very beneficial for our response against this pathogen. 

These online puzzles work by trying to understand how proteins are structured (how they fold in space). Proteins are all made up of the same building blocks: amino acids. Different amino acids are linked together in a specific order to make a protein, which make each protein unique. However, their uniqueness is not simply based on their amino acids sequence: proteins do not remain linear but fold into space to gain a very specific structure. While we can determine the amino acid code of a protein quite easily, determining protein folding is more tricky, and it is for this purpose that FoldIt reaches out to its online users. 

The puzzles available on FoldIT provide the users with the algorithms to try and predict the structure of proteins. Protein structures receiving high scores in the game are chosen for further investigation by researchers, who can then use the knowledge of how a protein folds for other, more applied biological questions. In the context of the COVID19 pandemic, FoldIt has put out two types of projects. Prediction puzzles invites users to help solve the structure of virus protein regions, which would help us understand how the virus works. In contrast, other puzzles offer the opportunity to help design anti-inflammatory and antiviral proteins to help combat the virus. 

In 12 years of existence, this crowdsourcing platform has contributed to multiple projects and research papers, so why not join this global research effort against COVID19? Foldit can be found online with its website (, on twitter (@Foldit) and on facebook (@folditgame). Regular updates or ‘lab reports’ can be found on its Youtube channel

Find out about the new slew of new coronavirus puzzles and a software update that should improve all of your designs in the latest Lab Report.

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