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Citizen scientists aim to solve complex RNA structures

By Tim Sandle     Feb 1, 2014 in Science
A new online competition provides an opportunity for citizen scientists to design RNA molecules to generate a target structure for new medicines.
Citizen science involves people participating in both scientific thinking and data collection (as Digital Journal has reported). One of several citizen science bodies around the world, the organizing body UK-EOF, describes the activity as:
“Volunteer collection of biodiversity and environmental data which contributes to expanding our knowledge of the natural environment, including biological monitoring and the collection or interpretation of environmental observations.”
Citizen science has helped to make innovations in many areas, including the environment and natural history. Now it is entering a new arena: molecular biology.
Predicting the way that molecules fold can be complex and time consuming, even with the most advanced technology. To help scientists, a research team created a game called EteRNA. So far the game has been played by more than 37,000 citizen scientists online. With the game, EteRNA participants designed sequences based on a target structure in the browser-based gaming interface. The top eight possibilities each week were chosen by the players’ vote and then synthesized and analyzed in a laboratory.
The initial results have been encouraging and this has helped generate a new algorithm that predicts RNA folding more accurately than previous algorithms. RNA is an acronym for ribonucleic acid. RNA plays a key role in the coding, decoding, regulation, and expression of genes. The results so far have been published in the journal PNAS ("NA design rules from a massive open laboratory").
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