Who said that Flash games were only for wasting time? Who said that they could never be used for good? Obviously, the bioinformaticians at McGill University in Canada never got that memo, instead creating a new pattern-matching puzzle game that could actually turn out to be pretty useful in the real world.
Phylo has been designed to give researchers a better insight into genetic codes and could lead to identifying the origins of genetic disease. And while that sounds complex, all you have to do is click, slide and match some coloured squares.
Those coloured squares represent different parts of the genetic code – A (adenine), C (cytosine), G (guanine) and T (thymine) – and it’s your job to “best arrange” two different sequences of blocks, making up chains of DNA, RNA or protein. Yes, this is real. You’ll do this by lining up as many of the same-coloured blocks as possible to identify regions of similarity. Try to avoid adding any gaps – that’s where mutations can creep in!
What does it all mean?
Similar regions (blocks of colour) that are displayed across multiple genetic sequences are typically the result of shared evolutionary origins. They might display traits recognised across multiple species, and may be something as ‘simple’ eye colour, or more sinister, like heart disease. The aim of Phylo is to trace this mutation point back far enough to find out where the genetic diseases are created – in the hopes that we may be able to squish them at the source (or at least have a better idea of how and why they occur).
The data created all heads back to the University of California’s genome browser in Santa Cruz, which is already cataloguing billions of bits and pieces of genetic information. Each successful game alignment will be analysed and stored in the database, and – eventually – the data optimised within Phylo will be released to researchers and scientists working in the field. See – you’re doing real work!
…but why do it this way, and not just give a supercomputer the task?
Because supercomputers (even awesome ones made out of PlayStations) are pretty crap when it comes to pattern sorting and facial recognition and other things that the human brain is pretty well developed at. The human brain can do these sort of tasks much more efficiently – and turning it into a game, and a simple game at that, makes it fun, to boot!
So – what are you waiting for? Instead of loading up another match-three, or the latest Facebook farm simulator, why not have a look at Phylo and use your extra cycles for something good?