Every time I read Wired magazine, I find something intriguing. The July 2012 issue mentioned a game called EteRNA. Sadly, I don't play many video games anymore. Modern games are so involving that they might destroy my writing productivity, so I only play when I'm with friends.
But the idea behind EteRNA caught my attention. We talked about crowdfunding here recently, and EteRNA is an example of another method: crowdsourcing.
You're probably used to crowdsourcing both online and in person. Someone asks for help or asks a question, and everyone jumps in with answers and advice. You see it in wikis and chat rooms and forums, too.
The EteRNA project is an effort to build a library of synthetic RNA. RNA is ribonucleic acid, the key component of all cells, including yours. Instead of computers making these molecules, EteRNA puts the tools in your hands.
Four nucleotides (conveniently color- and symbol-coded in the game) make up RNA, but it's how you link them together that matters. In nature, there are good RNAs like the ones that help cells synthesize proteins, and the bad ones like the retroviruses that make up hepatitis and HIV. The ones you make in EteRNA are synthetic, so they may be new things not found in nature.
What is the ultimate goal of this project? Well, they want to make breakthroughs in biochemistry, and they want to understand how crowdsourcing works. But I wish the website was a little more specific as to the applications of these synthetic RNA designs. I'm not sure they have an endgame in mind here, but if they do, they should share it. I think a clear goal would encourage people.
I'm still working my way through the tutorial, but if you want to try it out, don't let the talk of nucleotides and such deter you. So far I've concentrated on simply matching colors and forming links. The game is relaxing, and more like a crossword puzzle than a game of Tetris. So hit the site and give it a try.