Friday, November 11, 2011

Phylo Game -- Phylling in the Genetic Blanks

Sorry for taking the last few days off.  I've been working on a citizen science-type project of my own and it's been taking up a lot of time.  But I certainly haven't forgotten about this blog, and I certainly haven't been spending the whole time playing video games.  Well, only one game.  But I swear it's on topic!

Photo Courtesy: OpenScientist.org and McGill University

This week I'm looking at Phylo, a citizen science game created by researchers at McGill University in Quebec.  Their goal is figuring out how genetically similar various species are to each other by examining similarities in their DNA.   To do this, segments of DNA that perform the same function are analyzed to determine how similar they are to each other.  Although their function is the same more differences will emerge the more distantly related they are to each other.  So a genetic segment performing the same function in both a human and monkey should be much more similar than the same segments in a human and a dog.  Computers have previously analyzed these segments but human eyes (and brains) are even better at pattern recognition.  So we should provide much better answers, and we might as well have fun doing it as a game.

Getting Started is Easy:

  1. Visit the Phylo Game web page and learn more about the science behind the game.
  2. Now that you're familiar with the scientific value of the work, prepare for the Game functions on the Play screen.  Click on Login/Register to create a profile.  All that's needed is a user name and password so no need to worry about providing private information.
  3. Now you're ready to learn the interface...just click "Tutorial" from the Play screen for a quick introduction.  Basically, you will see two animals with a line of genetic code with each DNA segment represented by a colored block.  Align as many blocks as possible while minimizing empty space and mismatched blocks (see the picture below for a real example from the game).  The better the match the higher the score.  Just make sure to do be fast and finish each one before time runs out!
  4. As you get better the sequences will get tougher.  And you can add additional species to each level.  But don't give up as it gets more difficult.  That's where the best science can occur.
Photo Courtesy: Openscientist.org and McGill University

That's all there is to this simple yet important game.  But don't just take my word for it.  Stop by the site and start playing around.   Enjoy!

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