How playing games can help scientific research

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Ever felt that saving princess Zelda or “catching ‘em all” was not rewarding enough? If so, why don’t you help Science and play serious games?

In their wider definition, serious games are games designed for other purposes than pure entertainment. In scientific research, serious games have been developed to make the community of gamers participate in the resolution of complex problems that cannot be solved by machines.

Serious games in biomedical research

Indeed, humans are very efficient at recognising patterns, which is rather a difficult task for computers and algorithms. Serious games combine a pleasing interface, a challenging and entertaining problem to solve, and a will to help scientific research.  Problem to solve can be broke down into smaller tasks, which multiplied by the number of players can lead to great results.

How serious games can make a difference

A notable example of how serious games can make science go forward is the resolution of the crystal structure of the M-PMV virus retroviral protease. Stuck for more than 10 years on the resolution of its structure, researchers used the online protein-folding game “Foldit” and its community of gamers. After 3 weeks, the 3D structure of the protein was solved and published in Nature Structural & Molecular Biology.

Popular serious games also include “Phylo”, where players try to improve multiple sequence alignments by moving blocks, “EyeWire”, dedicated to 3D reconstruction of neurons, or “EteRNA”, where players design RNA sequences that fold into target secondary structures.

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Player interface from the serious games Phylo (up) and EyeWire (down).

Serious games are also used in human and public health, to raise awareness on specific diseases, or to help patients and their family deal with a medical condition. Their use is now spreading to a lot of different disciplines such as teaching, politics, ecology, etc.

If you want to contribute to research and science while having fun, check out these games:

  • MalariaSpot, to quantify malaria parasites on thick blood smears.
  • Dizeez, a multiple-choice quiz to catalog gene-disease associations.
  • The Cure, where you use your knowledge to make informed decisions about the best combinations of variables (e.g. genes) to build predictive patterns.
  • GenESP, a gene annotation game where players contribute their knowledge of gene function and disease relevance.

If you want to produce, publish, or promote your own game, visit Science Game Lab, a platform for the promotion of scientific games with a purpose.

Game on!

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Community opinion: optimize your search experience

Firstly, a big thanks to all of you who participated in our survey!

A few weeks ago, we sent out a survey so we can better meet your needs and improve your search experience on OMICtools. Thanks to all of the 78 participants who took part in this survey, your feedback is really important to us.

We are happy to report here the positive results of this survey. All of you were satisfied regarding the relevance of the results you get with the OMICtools search engine, with 59% judging the results as good and 31% as great.

Participants also reported that for 55% of you find the OMICtools search engine and website easy to use and innovative, and 43% consider it satisfactory. Only 2% (1 person) encountered difficulties using it (we are always happy to answer any questions right away about any difficulties you encounter).

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We listed six criteria used in our ranking algorithm (see the previous post OMICtools: upgrading your search experience for more details) which we use to define the order the tools appear in your search results, and we asked you to order them by importance. Your ranking from most important to least important (left to right) is:

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With tool quality rating being of primary importance for users – make sure you rate any tools you yourself use, so others can benefit from the community’s experience. We also asked you to give your opinion on the choice of our new additional filters:

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Your answers have helped us a lot. The new filters are now available!

You can now use them to specify your needs on the category pages and to sort the search engine results by computer skills, operating system (os), programming language, technology and/or software type.

Once again, thanks for completing this survey! Your feedback on filters is always welcome.