Solve puzzles for science
Version: BetaFoldIt is an online game in which humans try to solve one of the hardest computational problems in biology: protein folding.
Operating System: Mac OS X
Proteins are the workhorses in every cell of every living thing. Your body is made up of trillions of cells, of all different kinds: muscle cells, brain cells, blood cells, and more. Inside those cells, proteins are allowing your body to do what it does: break down food to power your muscles, send signals through your brain that control the body, and transport nutrients through your blood.
Proteins come in thousands of different varieties, but they all have a lot in common. For instance, they're made of the same stuff: every protein consists of a long chain of joined-together amino acids.
Even though proteins are just a long chain of amino acids, they don't like to stay stretched out in a straight line. The protein will fold up to create a compact blob, but as it does, it keeps some amino acids near the center of the blob, and others outside; and it keeps some pairs of amino acids close together and others far apart.
Every kind of protein folds up into a very specific shape -- the same shape every time. Most proteins do this all by themselves, although some need extra help to fold into the right shape. The unique shape of a particular protein is the most stable state it can adopt. Picture a ball in a funnel - the ball will always roll down to the bottom of the funnel because that is the most stable state.