The understanding of the code of life, DNA, is progressing through huge hurdles that are being tackled in amazingly ingenious ways. What could due far from telecommunications and ICT than DNA? Wrong. ICT has already been a fundamental tool in sequencing the genome and in understanding the structure of DNA (and protein) molecules.
Now I stumbled upon an applications of ICT to design RNA molecules (RNA is a close cousin on DNA and actually some scientists believe DNA was derived from RNA so that actually the life on Earth begun with RNA). Besides, RNA is crucial in connecting DNA instructions to the actual implementation of proteins since those DNA sequences are copied by RNA strings and carried over to the manufacturing sites within the cell cytoplasm.
You absolutely need to try out EteRNA. It is a video game, to be played on your computer that guides you in the development of RNA molecules. You learn about the “rules of the game” and you start developing molecules in the virtual space. Once you have proved your skill (reaching 10,000 points) you can enter into a new space, the Lab. There you learn to use actual labs equipment to synthesize RNA molecules and you can start designing them as a scientist would do.
Every two weeks researchers at Stanford and Carnegie Mellon pick up 4 to 16 molecules designed by players of EteRNA and actually synthesize them. So players have a chance to see their designed molecules come to life!
Now, this is a very clever way to multiply the research effort into developing RNA molecules by enrolling amateur researchers all around the world. So far there are over 38,000 amateur researchers playing EteRNA and many RNA molecules invented by them have been synthesized. It is crowd sourcing applied to research, and very sophisticated one indeed.
It really amazes me how ICT can harvest collective intelligence. We are really moving into a future where all human intelligence, the collective intelligence of the human race, will be on tap, ready to be applied to a variety of issues. EteRNA proves that no task is too difficult to be tackled by thousands of people. Telecommunications and information Technology bring intelligence together and make it usable on demand.