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Keck award enables Carnegie Mellon and Stanford to dramatically expand crowdsourced RNA design
Date:3/15/2012

PITTSBURGHResearchers at Carnegie Mellon University and Stanford University are expanding EteRNA a unique research project that taps online game play to create RNA designs that are then tested in a laboratory thanks to new support from the W.M. Keck Foundation.

Among the additions already implemented is a new puzzle in which players design RNA switches RNA molecules that change shape in the presence of other molecules.

A $1 million grant through the Keck Foundation's Medical Research Program will provide ongoing support for the year-old EteRNA project, which has already engaged more than 30,000 citizen-scientists in the study of RNA design. Researchers say the online game has identified a number of people, some without formal science training, who display a strong aptitude for RNA design and are generating important scientific insights.

Biologists believe RNA molecules may be a key regulator of living cells. But they have struggled to understand the complex principles that dictate the three-dimensional shape of RNA, which is critical to deciphering the molecules' functions and to designing new RNA devices.

"EteRNA was designed to test the interplay between high-throughput experimental science and crowdsourcing," said Adrien Treuille, an assistant professor of computer science at Carnegie Mellon who leads the project with Rhiju Das, an assistant professor of biochemistry at Stanford, and Jeehyung Lee, a Carnegie Mellon Ph.D. student in computer science. "What we've seen emerge from a group of talented players is a dedicated community of researchers who have out-performed the best existing computer models for RNA design."

EteRNA was the first online game to harness wet-lab experimentation to the wisdom of crowds. Players are given design challenges and then use the latest computer modeling programs to create possible solutions. Players vote on the best of their virtual designs, which are then synthesized in the Das lab a
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Contact: Byron Spice
bspice@cs.cmu.edu
412-268-9068
Carnegie Mellon University
Source:Eurekalert

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