Mobile gaming is typically associated more with light entertainment than social utility but it looks like a UK charity wants to change that. Today Cancer Research launched "Play to Cure: Genes in Space", a game that aims to speed up DNA research by harnessing the skills of players around the world. Here's how it works:
The goal of the game is to collect as much "Element Alpha" as possible as you fly a spaceship through the sky. In doing so, you are "mapping routes" through real DNA microarray data and helping Cancer Research scientists identify patterns in genetic information that has been taken from 2,000 breast cancer patients. These patterns correspond to DNA faults which can lead to cancer.
The faults can take various forms, including changes in chromosomes or parts of chromosomes. Such changes are called "copy number alteration". Now while computer software can be used to spot many patterns, it cannot yet match human observation when it comes to these changes in copy number. As a consequence, scientists need the help of many human eyes to crunch through vast amounts of data.
Genes in Spaceisn't the first "game for good" that Cancer Research has released. In 2012, the charity launched "Cell Slider", a website developed following a hackathon that also encouraged the public to analyze cancer data. The success of this game led the organization to continue the initiative, this time with a focus on mobile.
Genes in Space was developed with the help of Guerilla Tea, a game design and development company based in Dundee, UK.