Robotics and Engineering Students Participate in Challenge to Fight Coronavirus
Collegiate Upper School students in Dan Bartels' Robotics and Engineering class are participating in a Foldit challenge (www.fold.it) to help researchers design new proteins that might inhibit coronavirus' ability to interact with human cells (think Tamiflu).
Foldit is a crowdsourced online game in which anyone can participate. It was developed by the University of Washington Center for Game Science, in collaboration with the university’s Department of Biochemistry.
Mr. Bartels’ class is learning to "fold" proteins — essentially molecular origami — to design a new structure that bonds with the spike protein of the coronavirus in order to inhibit the virus's ability to interact with human cells. The most promising solutions from the game will be manufactured and tested at the University of Washington Institute for Protein Design in Seattle.
A protein is a long chain of amino acids that will fold up in a particular way into a 3D structure. This structure determines its functionality. Hemoglobin, for example, is a protein whose structure has pockets to carry oxygen.
Designing new proteins is a computationally hard problem. Human players of Foldit excel at "taking risks" and making moves that an algorithm would consider suboptimal.
Students recently chatted via Zoom with Susan Kleinfelter, a citizen scientist and Foldit guru. She talked to the students about the fundamentals of protein science, how to play the challenge and why it is important.
Mr. Bartels' class will be inviting members of the Collegiate community to join the effort.