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The Public, Playing a Molecule-Building Game, Outperforms Scientists

By Chronicle of Higher Education

August 19, 2011

Researchers at Stanford and Carnegie Mellon universities are using EteRNA, a Web-based crowdsourcing game, to understand how RNA molecules fit together.

The researchers, led by Stanford's Rhiju Das and Carnegie Mellon's Adrien Treuille, designed EteRNA so that the intellectual legwork behind RNA design could be completed by about 26,000 novice scientists. Players are given a puzzle design, such as an RNA molecule in the shape of a star or a cross, which they must fill in with components, representing nucleotides, to produce the most viable solution. The community of players then votes on the blueprint that they think is most likely to succeed. The researchers select the highest rated blueprints and synthesize them, reporting the results back to the crowd.

EteRNA has produced results that are more effective than computer-generated arrangements. "EteRNA players are extremely good at designing RNAs, which is all the more surprising because the top algorithms published by scientists are not nearly so good," Treuille says. The researchers believe the program shows great promise for integrating machine learning, experimental data, and crowdsourcing to generate new ideas.

From Chronicle of Higher Education
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