SciStarter has teamed up with the Network of the National Library of Medicine and the All of Us Research Program to host a webinar series in January, February, and March, called “Lend Citizen Science Project Scientists a Hand. Then, Discuss the Results!” This series is highlighting a different citizen science project each month, showing you how to get involved in the project, and creating a space for you to share your experiences and questions with the project scientists! February’s featured project is Eterna.
Eterna is an online puzzle game citizen scientists can play to help project scientists understand complex RNA molecules and develop new medical treatments for global diseases like tuberculosis, malaria, or even COVID-19. Players design and solve puzzles, and can compete in challenges specifically created to solve some of science’s most pressing questions. Puzzle solutions that receive the most votes in the game are actually built and tested in labs at Stanford, so that scientists can learn more about how RNA molecules work.
Since the game’s launch in 2011, Stanford has built and tested thousands of molecules designed by players. Additionally, 25 scientific papers on RNA structure and design have been published using data from Eterna, some of which citizen scientist Eterna players helped to write! Not only did Eterna help forge this revolutionary new role for non-experts in science, it also represented the very first use of the ‘massive open laboratory’ model in a published biology paper. This model of experimental design and data collection, characterized by a huge number of people coming together to analyze science experiments, is an exciting possibility that could be used widely in the future to help strengthen the integrity of the scientific method. Beyond paving the way for new experimental methods, Eterna players have helped bioengineers learn new rules for RNA structure design, so that they can create increasingly accurate machine learning algorithms that perform well in experiments. Eterna’s gamers can help fight disease too. The OpenTB Challenge launched in 2018 recruited players to design a molecule that could be used to create a cost-effective diagnostic test for tuberculosis. More recently, Eterna has challenged players with an “Eterna-Corona Puzzle of the Day,” with the goal of better understanding the RNA biology of coronaviruses, RNA-based tests and treatments, and mRNA vaccines. Eterna is currently being used to help develop a refrigerator-stable COVID-19 vaccine that could be used all around the world.
The successes of crowdsourcing scientific data through Eterna’s massive open laboratory model really jibe with the All of Us program’s vision of diversity in research. People of all backgrounds should be involved in research so we can find solutions that work well for everyone around the world. Furthermore, the more minds we have working on important scientific questions, the faster we’ll be able to find the answers the world needs. Eterna’s developers are dedicated to making the game increasingly accessible to all kinds of people. Groundbreaking ideas can come from anyone, anywhere!
Join the Eterna webinar event live on Thursday, February 18 at 2:00 pm PST. For more information visit the event page at SciStarter.
Post by NNLM PSR intern Elisa Borgsdorf, edited by Amy Reyes