Foldit is a one-of-a-kind protein folding computer game developed by university scientists. By playing Foldit, you can contribute to advanced research on human health, cutting-edge bioengineering, and the inner workings of biology.
Foldit is free to play and not-for-profit. Discoveries made in the game are published in peer-reviewed research journals and Foldit players are always credited for their contributions.
Every week, Foldit scientists post new puzzles focused on the latest problems in protein folding. Read on to learn about ongoing research in protein design to treat diseases like influenza and COVID-19, small molecule design to invent new drug compounds, and protein structure solving to map the molecules that drive biology.
For a deep dive into the science behind protein folding, visit the Science page.
(Left) A protein designed by @Waya, @Galaxie, and @Susume and (right) a crystal of this protein in the lab, ready for x-ray diffraction. This protein design was published in Koepnick et al. (2019) as Foldit1, and the solved structure is deposited in the PDB with ID 6MRR.
The living world is full of proteins that have evolved to carry out the amazing functions of biology, from digesting food to firing neurons. The goal of protein design is to create brand new proteins to carry out brand new functions. We'd like to design proteins that can shut down viruses like influenza, break down plastic, or self-assemble into new materials.
The big challenge of protein design is that protein molecules must fold correctly all by themselves. If a protein is poorly designed and misfolds, then it cannot carry out its intended function. To try your hand at protein design, look for Foldit puzzles in the Design Category.
Small Molecule Design
Common medicines like aspirin are examples of non-protein small molecules. Even though these compounds are tiny, they can have a big impact on natural proteins in the body. Research in small molecule design aims to create new drug compounds to target disease-related proteins.
Small molecule design is difficult because the sheer number of possible molecules is overwhelming for a single design strategy. Crowdsourcing is a great way to use human creativity for diverse strategies and outside-the-box thinking. Help design new small molecule drugs by playing Foldit puzzles in the Small Molecule Design Category.
There are millions of different proteins in the natural world, and each one folds into a unique structure. Solving a protein's structure is essential to understand how the protein functions, and can lead researchers to new paths for treating disease. Since proteins are too small to see under a microscope, scientists use indirect methods to get clues about how each protein folds. We use those clues to solve the protein's structure.
Foldit is especially useful for solving protein structures with electron density maps. These maps show the overall shape of a folded protein, although sometimes maps are noisy or difficult to interpret. Try out puzzles in the Electron Density Category to help scientists solve the structure of natural proteins.