In “Gamers outdo computers at matching up disease genes” (Nature, 12 March 2012), Stephen Strauss reports , “Computer game crowdsources DNA sequence alignments across different species”:
… he hope that swarms of gamers can help to solve difficult biological problems has been given another boost by a report in the journal PLoS One1, showing that data gleaned from the online game Phylo are helping to untangle a major problem in comparative genomics.
The game was created to address the ‘multiple sequence alignment (MSA) problem’, which refers to the difficulty of aligning roughly similiar sequences of DNA in genes common to many species. A DNA sequence that is conserved across species suggests that it plays an important role in the ultimate function of that particular gene.
Although computer algorithms can do very rough alignments of sequences across species, they have proven inept at getting the answer just right. “It is fair to say that present alignments are not just a little bit bad, they are really pretty crude because we have to take a lot of heuristic shortcuts,” says Adam Siepel, a computational biologist at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, who was not involved with the study.
This story somehow got lost around here last week. Anyway, it makes sense that humans would do better than computers at guessing biology issues. It helps to be biological.
Journal article here.
Star Trek’s Data tries training a cat (mmmph! mmmph!)