Facebook DNA: McGill University researchers turn genome into potential social game

Isn't it time our gaming habits did something productive for a change? How does contributing to genetic research sound? Well, a group of researchers from the McGill University School of Computer Science in Montreal have found a way for us to do just that with Phylo, a brand new browser game designed to boil down decoding strands of DNA, RNA and other proteins to an easily understandable matching game.

"Recognizing and sorting the patterns in the human genetic code falls in that category," lead researcher Jérôme Waldispuhl told Futurity. "Our new online game enables players to have fun while contributing to genetic research-players can even choose which genetic disease they want to help decode."

According to Futurity, many of the world's diseases are caused by defects in DNA code, an issue researchers are just beginning to crack the surface of. What seems to have been blocking researchers' way in the field are Multiple Sequence Alignments. This way of arranging DNA sequences could lead to researchers finding shared evolutionary origins, identifying functionally important sites, and illustrating mutation events. Most importantly, biologists can trace the source of certain genetic diseases through Multiple Sequence Alignments.

However, the sheer size of the genome (roughly three billion base pairs) has proven too much for even the most complex algorithms and heuristics, so McGill researchers have decided to employ us to do the computers' dirty work, picking up the pieces they might have left behind. But enough of the science behind it, let's find out how the game plays after the break.
Phylo Gameplay
Recently tested within the science community to test its accuracy, Phylo looks as impressive and engaging as puzzle games get. The production value here is top notch with soothing music, sounds and visuals. Not to mention some seriously smooth controls and animations with blocks softly bouncing into one another. The game tasks players with matching as many similarly colored blocks as possible. However, it's not that easy--you can only move blocks horizontally and there will be an uneven amount of blocks almost every time. Any gaps in the sequence or mismatched columns of blocks will deduct points from your score, yet they're unavoidable.

That said, the ultimate goal of the game is to have your successful matches outweigh the imminent failures. While that might sound like a glass-half-empty approach to gaming, it's both realistic to the cause (remember, your gameplay data contributes to their research) and the min-max, win-lose balance becomes the game itself.

Every sequence that you'll be put up against was originally put together by a computer using a complex algorithm, whose score will be your par for each level. Match or beat this par in the alloted time for each level and you'll maximize your points. While there obviously aren't any virtual goods for sale or properties to keep track of, Phylo could very well be making its way to Facebook soon. "We would like to integrate this game directly into Facebook as an application," Waldispuhl said to Futurity. "Farmville, move over!"

Click here to play Phylo right now >

What do you think of a game that could actually contribute to scientific progress? Would you play a game like this and if not, what would make you want to? Sound off in the comments. Add Comment.
Read Full Story