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Millions of gamers help advance gut microbiome research

Video games have catalyzed a convergence of entertainment and science, as millions of gamers worldwide leverage their gaming prowess into a powerful tool for advancing biomedical research related to gut microbiome.

Consequently, these players have engaged with a mini-game embedded in the popular video game “Borderlands 3.” Their involvement has significantly advanced our understanding of the evolutionary relationships of microbes within the human gut.

Video gamers and microbiome research

“Borderlands Science” is not just a fun diversion within a video game; it represents a serious scientific tool. As players align rows of tiles, which symbolize genetic sequences, they perform tasks that challenge even the most sophisticated algorithms.

This innovative approach has yielded exponential growth in our understanding of the microbiome. Additionally, it has demonstrated the potential of video games to solve complex scientific problems that traditional methods have struggled with.

Researchers, game developers, and a Swiss IT company specializing in integrating science with video gaming collaborated to develop the game. With support from genomic data, the project showcases how effectively gaming technology can be leveraged for scientific pursuits.

Refining science through gameplay

The players of Borderlands Science have vastly improved upon the data collected by traditional DNA analysis methods.

Jérôme Waldispühl, the senior author of the study, expressed astonishment at the volume and quality of data gathered. “In half a day, the players collected five times more data about microbial DNA sequences than our earlier game had collected over a 10-year period,” noted Waldispühl.

Consequently, this massive influx of data has refined our understanding of the microbial relationships crucial to human health.

Gaming and scientific research collaboration

Attila Szantner envisioned the integration of DNA analysis into a commercially successful video game, emphasizing the need to creatively utilize the vast amounts of time and intellectual energy spent on gaming.

This vision led to the creation of “Borderlands Science,” which received an enthusiastic reception from players worldwide. The project’s success highlights its ability to engage and utilize the cognitive resources of a diverse gaming community effectively.

Randy Pitchford, the CEO of the game’s development company, further emphasized the project’s impact, describing it as a pioneering achievement in citizen science. He highlighted how Borderlands Science pushes the boundaries of what video games can contribute to the world.

“Borderlands Science has become one of the largest and most accomplished citizen science projects of all time,” said Pitchford.

Video gamers’ data linked to gut microbiome

The microbiome research facilitated by this video gaming initiative is pivotal in understanding how microbes influence health. It also explores how these microbes are influenced by diet, lifestyle, and other factors.

Subsequently, Rob Knight, a lead researcher in the project, discussed the potential of this data. He highlighted its ability to link specific microbes to various health outcomes, including diseases such as inflammatory bowel disease and Alzheimer’s.

“Because evolution is a great guide to function, having a better tree relating our microbes to one another gives us a more precise view of what they are doing within and around us,” he explained.

Fostering a community of citizen scientists

The success of Borderlands Science extends beyond scientific achievements. It has engaged over 4.5 million individuals in the scientific process, fostering a community dedicated to advancing knowledge.

“Here we have 4.5 million people who contributed to science.” Waldispühl added, “It shows that we can fight the fear or misconceptions that members of the public may have about science and start building communities who work collectively to advance knowledge.”

Moreover, Daniel McDonald, scientific director of the project, emphasized the significance of these collaborative efforts. He also highlighted the remarkable value of open access data in expanding the scope of scientific inquiry.

Study significance

The intersection of video gaming and scientific research demonstrated by Borderlands Science offers a promising new pathway for scientific discovery. Additionally, it facilitates community engagement.

This innovative approach not only enhances our understanding of complex biological systems but also exemplifies how creative collaborations can address some of the most challenging issues of our time.

The study is published in the journal Nature Biotechnology.


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