“We all die in the end, but there’s no reason to die in the middle.”

David Mamet

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Created by: the (re) institute llc                All Rights Reserved 2011-2015

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story: wait, what’s our job?

- the game FoldIt -


it helps to picture a bunch of biochemists to understand what happened. imagine them sitting around one day really looking at what their job was. initially the answer seemed obvious: ‘we try understand how the human body works, especially at the protein level, in order to crack the codes of disease so we can come up with cures.’ but rather than accept the obvious, they pushed deeper and concluded this: ‘basically we solve puzzles - how proteins fit together, leading to both disease and cure.’ that led to a truthful but unfortunate conclusion: ‘we suck at solving puzzles.’


what they’d really discovered was how they spent the majority of their time. their real job, the part they were good at, was taking the solutions to the

image of a protein fold (source: www.ep.liu.se)

puzzles and building them into solutions for combating disease. if they could only get past that puzzle solving part. it was gamers they realized who were among the best puzzle solvers…


yup. gamers. if you can go back a bit in the history of video games, recall Tetris, a game where the goal is to deftly match up different shapes in a never-ending puzzle. proteins, it turns out, are very much like Tetris shapes and pieces. if you could figure out how to make them into a game, maybe the best puzzlers could solve that game better and faster than the folks who just want the solutions.


but what if you could do even more? what if you could get everybody doing what they do best and while giving them the incentive and reward they most desire? enter the game FoldIt. the short story? the biochemists need puzzle solvers and more, solutions. the IT department wants to program and hey, being able to make a video game could be pretty darn cool. gamers want bragging rights, endless game levels, and wow, what if it was a game that never ended because it was always folding in your puzzle solutions to ‘up’ the game? FoldIt did just that. for everyone.


but it did more. for everyone. among many other accomplishments, in 2011, players of FoldIt helped decipher the crystal structure of the Mason-Pfizer monkey virus, which was linked to AIDS. in 10 days they produced an accurate 3D model of the enzyme that could lead to the cure… a structure that had stumped scientists for 15 years.

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