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Minigame integrated into EVE Online helps scientists understand cells

Enlarge / Yes, those are real human cells inside a fictional galaxy.

Citizen science, which asks the public to help out science projects, has produced some spectacular successes. But finding a way to grab and maintain hold of the public’s attention can be a challenge. That’s led to a number of projects that turn the science challenge into a game, finding ways of making a “win” into scientific progress.

But scientists have also figured out ways of hijacking existing games, including using pre-existing fan bases that recruits players through in-game rewards. Now, there’s a progress report on an effort to turn EVE Online players into cell biology experts. Thanks to some in-game rewards, over 300,000 players contributed roughly 33 million calls on where in a cell a protein was located. This not only greatly expanded a public database of information on proteins, but it enabled the researchers to better train a neural network to do the same thing.