Dear Internet,
A penny for your thoughts on the grant proposal accessible here.  If you were on the committee that decided the fate of this proposal (and in a very real way, its authors), what would you say?  Go jump in a lake?  This is fantastic?  Why?

In a nutshell, we* propose to build some serious games that will translate key biological data curation and interpretation tasks into aspects of entertaining and educational games.  Here are the first few paragraphs to give you a feeling for its flavor.

   “Seven million hours of human labor were spent building the Empire State Building. The Panama Canal took twenty million human-hours to complete. The construction of these monumental structures required the coordinated efforts of tens of thousands of people over many years. By comparison, it has been estimated that nine billion human-hours are spent playing Solitaire annually (Von Ahn 2006. Human Computation). More generally, up to 150 billion hours (the equivalent of 17 million years of human effort) are spent playing games every year (McGonigal 2011. Reality is broken). Obviously people play Solitaire and other games because they are enjoyable and fun. But aside from that enjoyment, the time spent playing these games largely results in no tangible benefit, neither to the individual nor to society at large.

   Here, we propose to build several “games with a purpose”, a class of games that focuses on collaboratively harnessing gamers for productive ends. This proposal will use scientific games to engage a broad community of individuals in advancing biological research. Specifically, our games will focus on creating biological value on three distinct levels. First, we will annotate the function and disease relevance of individual human genes. Second, we will construct a functional gene network that represents consensus biological knowledge. Third, we will discover multi-gene biomarker panels for human disease.
   This proposal will provide a mechanism whereby the entire biological research community and motivated individuals from society at large can participate in improving our understanding of gene function in health and disease. We will use online games as the mechanism to enable and encourage broad community participation. Our games will be based on existing game designs that are proven to be fun and engaging. If we can harness even a fraction of the “Solitaire time” from the gamer community, then already we will have access to a substantial, novel and free resource to advance scientific research. This proposal will test the hypothesis that biological games can substantially improve genome-scale science.
   This objective will be achieved through the following three Specific Aims:

  • Specific Aim #1: Use biological games to annotate human genes. Identification of novel structured gene annotations for diseases and functions will improve many statistical analyses of genetic and genomic data.
  • Specific Aim #2: Use biological games to create a “community consensus network” of gene relationships. The resulting network of biological knowledge will define both the existence of gene-gene edges, as well as the specific nature of each gene-gene relationship.
  • Specific Aim #3: Use biological games to discover biomarkers of human disease. These games will identify molecular features for studying disease mechanisms, diagnosis, prognosis, and treatment selection.”

The rest of the proposal is accessible here. Any feedback would be most appreciated.

* Me and Andrew Su