Phylo is a free, browser-based, flash game unveiled in late 2010 by the McGill University Centre for Bioinformatics, which allows you to manipulate stretches of DNA across species in order to perfect existing algorithms. Essentially a pattern matching game, Phylo allows you to choose a puzzle from diseases effecting medical situations you are interested in or would personally like to see treated (like metabolic, cardiovascular, and immune system diseases) or you can select a level based on difficultly. Your level will be generated from data within the UCSC Genome Browser.

How do you play?

You move the colored blocks, each representing a nucleotide of DNA (adenine, thymine, guanine, and cytosine), individually or as a group. You can only move the blocks from left to right, with the goal being to eliminate mismatches and observe mutational gaps between species.
A player starts a level by trying to beat the current "par" for the level by eliminating the length of gaps from mutations and lining up blocks of the same color vertically (a bit like the popular phone game Bejeweled). Par is determined by the score obtained by the computer algorithm, which has been formed using an existing heuristic (a decision tree, essentially). Your improvements on par are introduced as global optimization code, improving the existing algorithm.

Playing Style

As the levels increase in difficulty, additional species are introduced (on the top part of the screen you might be aligning a human and a primate, while beneath it you are aligning data from a cow and a horse), and you seek to find where the DNA sequences should match up (and where they should not and will not) in a fast-paced session of multiple sequence alignment, as time is a factor as well, increasing the game-like nature of this scientific endeavor. Your score is given in real time as you move your series of blocks around, with a gold star illuminating when you have beaten par for the level, and you are granted access to the next level.

Computers cannot replicate the Creativity of the Human Mind

The creativity of the human mind is something that cannot (yet) be reproduced in silica. Take advantage of that fact, play a rather fun puzzle game, and help optimize a computation routine that seeks to eradicate several diseases in the process. An iPhone version of Phylo is also in the works, no doubt giving Bejeweled a run for its money when it arrives.

Images courtesy of Phylo and the McGill University Centre for Bioinformatics.