A new report in PLoS One shows that people playing the online game Phylo are helping researchers figure out problems in comparative genomics, reports Nature News' Stephen Strauss. The game was created to help researchers figure out multiple sequence alignments. "Although computer algorithms can do very rough alignments of sequences across species, they have proven inept at getting the answer just right," Strauss says. The study's lead author, McGill University's Jérôme Waldispühl, tells Strauss that "understanding when something breaks a general rule is very difficult for a computer but that is what human visual intelligence is very good at."
Waldispühl's team released Phylo in November 2010 with the aim of improving the sequence alignment of promoter regions of 521 disease-associated genes from 44 vertebrate species, Strauss says. Players' alignments were entered into a database and compared to alignments calculated by the University of California, Santa Cruz's MULTIZ alignment program. "The gamers produced roughly 350,000 solutions to various MSA problems, beating the accuracy of alignments from MULTIZ in roughly 70 per cent of the sequences they manipulated," Strauss says.