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Informing NASA's Asteroid Initiative: (ECAST)

In its history, the Earth has been repeatedly struck by asteroids, large chunks of rock from space that can cause considerable damage in a collision. Can we—or should we—try to protect Earth from potentially hazardous impacts?

Sounds like stuff just for rocket scientists. But how would you like to be part of this discussion?

Now you can! NASA is collaborating with ECAST—Expert and Citizen Assessment of Science and Technology—to give citizens a say in decisions about the future of space exploration.

Join the dialogue below about detecting asteroids and mitigating their potential impact. The five recommendations below emerged from ECAST public forums held in Phoenix and Boston last November.

Please take a few moments to review the background materials and the recommendations, and tell us what you think! Your input is important as we analyze the outcomes of the forums and make our final report to NASA.

Play to Cure: Genes in Space

Help researchers cure cancer.

The problem:

We know that faults in our genes can lead to cancer cells forming. This can be linked to the amount of genes in our cells - sometimes we have more and sometimes we have less.

It can take years for scientists to analyze all of their genetic data, but with thousands of citizen scientists playing Genes in Space, the process is greatly accelerated.

How it works:

First, you plot a galactic route. In the context of the game, you're choosing your flight path, but these “space coordinates” are actually a visualization of DNA data, and you're showing our scientists where the genetic variations are which may lead to cancer.

Then you collect Element Alpha, a mist like substance that can be traded for ship upgrades. It actually represents the same DNA data that has just been mapped – which means our scientists have two perspectives on the same sample, from one player.

And we’ve added an asteroid field. This makes the gameplay more engaging and challenging. You need to dodge or shoot a multitude of asteroids to complete a stage.

Each data sample is analyzed multiple times for accuracy. Don’t worry about making mistakes - the more people who use Genes in Space, the more accurate the results will be and the faster data can be translated into new ways to beat cancer.


Nanocrafter invites you to become a citizen scientist in the field of synthetic biology! As you solve puzzles to progress through the game, you'll learn about DNA biochemistry and how DNA strand displacement can be used to build computers, gears, walking constructs, and more! Compete in challenge levels that let you submit creative solutions to problems ranging from casual to highly technical. Review the solutions that others submit, team up to come up with even better solutions, and help scientists forge the future of synthetic biology!

Check out our game video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IaQEQ8Tiu_0

Follow us on twitter: @nanocrafter

Join us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/nanocraftergame


Phylo is a game in which participants align sequences of DNA by shifting and moving puzzle pieces. Your score depends on how you arrange these pieces. You will be competing against a computer and other players in the community.

Though it may appear to be just a game, Phylo is actually a framework for harnessing the computing power of mankind to solve a common problem -- Multiple Sequence Alignments.

A sequence alignment is a way of arranging the sequences of DNA, RNA or protein to identify regions of similarity. These similarities may be consequences of functional, structural, or evolutionary relationships between the sequences. From such an alignment, biologists may infer shared evolutionary origins, identify functionally important sites, and illustrate mutation events. More importantly, biologists can trace the source of certain genetic diseases.

Traditionally, multiple sequence alignment algorithms use computationally complex heuristics to align the sequences. Unfortunately, the use of heuristics do not guarantee global optimization as it would be prohibitively computationally expensive to achieve an optimal alignment. This is due in part to the sheer size of the genome, which consists of roughly three billion base pairs, and the increasing computational complexity resulting from each additional sequence in an alignment.

Humans have evolved to recognize patterns and solve visual problems efficiently. By abstracting multiple sequence alignment to manipulating patterns consisting of coloured shapes, we have adapted the problem to benefit from human capabilities. By taking data which has already been aligned by a heuristic algorithm, we allow the user to optimize where the algorithm may have failed.

All alignments were generously made available through UCSC Genome Browser. In fact, all alignments contain sections of human DNA which have been speculated to be linked to various genetic disorders, such as breast cancer. Every alignment is received, analyzed, and stored in a database, where it will eventually be re-introduced back into the global alignment as an optimization.

Let's play!

The Great Backyard Bird Count

The Great Backyard Bird Count is an annual four-day event during which bird watchers count birds to create a real-time snapshot of where birds are located across the continent.

Scientists and bird enthusiasts can learn a lot by knowing where birds are. Unfortunately, no single scientist or team of scientists could hope to document the complex distribution and movements of so many species in such a short time.

Anyone, from beginning bird watchers to experts, can participate in the The Great Backyard Bird Count. It takes as little as 15 minutes on one day, or you can count for as long as you like during each day of the event. It’s free, fun, and easy, and it helps the birds. In addition, yearly data collection makes the information more meaningful and allows scientists to investigate far-reaching questions.


Foldit is a revolutionary new computer game enabling you to contribute to important scientific research.

We’re collecting data to find out if humans' pattern-recognition and puzzle-solving abilities make them more efficient than existing computer programs at pattern-folding tasks. If this turns out to be true, we can then teach human strategies to computers and fold proteins faster than ever!

Knowing the structure of a protein is key to understanding how it works and to targeting it with drugs. A small protein can consist of 100 amino acids, while some human proteins can be huge (1000 amino acids). The number of different ways even a small protein can fold is astronomical because there are so many degrees of freedom. Figuring out which of the many, many possible structures is the best one is regarded as one of the hardest problems in biology today and current methods take a lot of money and time, even for computers.

Foldit attempts to predict the structure of a protein by taking advantage of humans' puzzle-solving intuitions and having people play competitively to fold the best proteins.

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