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Geoff Daily

App-Rising.com covers the development and adoption of broadband applications, the deployment of and need for broadband networks, and the demands placed on policy to adapt to the revolutionary opportunities made possible by the Internet.

App-Rising.com is written by Geoff Daily, a DC-based technology journalist, broadband activist, marketing consultant, and Internet entrepreneur.

App-Rising.com is supported in part by AT&T;, however all views and opinions expressed herein are solely my own.

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May 9, 2008 11:38 AM

Fold Proteins, Score Points, Cure Cancer

Using your computer to help cure cancer is nothing new; the [email protected] project has been around for years, leveraging a distributed network of personal computers to crunch numbers related to folding proteins when they're not being used for regular purposes like word processing and web browsing.

But now digital do-gooders have a new opportunity to take a more proactive approach to helping fight disease through broadband: Foldit.

Foldit is a computer game created by the University of Washington. Download/install the application, and you're ready to start contributing to the cause.

To play you manipulate 3D proteins in order to find the best possible ways they could fold. (I have no interest in trying to explain the mechanics/purposes of folding proteins, so if you'd like to learn more about this, click here.)

The important thing to know is that there are limitless ways in which proteins can fold, and "Foldit attempts to predict the structure of a protein by taking advantage of humans' puzzle-solving intuitions and having people play competitively to fold the best proteins."

Things should continue to get even more interesting over the summer when the project plans on releasing the ability for users to not just identify proteins but even allow them to design new proteins that can help prevent or treat a host of diseases.

As a warning to anyone interested in giving this a try, while I didn't catch the precise file size, I do know it took a good ten minutes to download over my top-end Comcast connection. So while the game itself isn't all that bandwidth intensive, be prepared to wait if you're downloading it over a slower DSL line.

And in terms of the gameplay, while interesting and well-packaged, I didn't find it overly compelling. But that said, I've never had that strong of an interest in biology and I'm sure things get more interesting once you make it past the initial training stages.

The goal of this initiative is twofold: first, to see if humans can do a better job of identifying the best way for proteins to fold than computers, and second if we are better to teach computers how to think more like us.

It's a fascinating use of computers and the Internet to leverage the power of the masses to solve complex biological problems. And proof positive that the future continues to be filled with many wondrous ways in which to use technology to make our lives better.

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