"Rosetta and other protein folding algorithms do much better then simple trial and error; they incorporate all the rules and ‘tricks’ that we know about. But as Pietszch writes “Any realistic hope of cracking the folding code… is probably a very long way off.”
If the smartest biochemists and fastest computers have made so little progress on this bitterly difficult problem over half a century, it seems ludicrous to think that novices will be able to contribute much. But a paper published earlier this month (pdf) in Nature shows that amateurs can fold proteins better than anyone or anything else when they’re given the right training and incentives, and when they’re given digital tools that allow them to experiment, collaborate, and self-organize.
A few years back a team at the University of Washington took cues from both the phenomenon of massively multiplayer online roleplaying games and the concept ofcrowdsourcing scientific problems and developed Foldit, a protein folding game. Foldit presents protein folding as a visual or spatial challenge to the player, whose goal is basically to arrange an on-screen protein into the smallest possible shape that obeys all the game’s rules."