Nanocrafter: A Game of Synthetic Biology for Anyone to Design New Life

Winner of the Special Emphasis Award at the annual Serious Games Showcase & Challenge 2014.
You have always dreamed of becoming a biodeveloper, to investigate existing and create new forms of life. It is simple. Just play puzzle with pieces of DNA, build nanoscale devices, and find creative solutions to scientific problems; maybe even establish a new direction of research.

Creators of FoldIt, a protein folding game, have come up with a new entertaining way in which citizens can help scientists advance R&D in synthetic biology, an exciting new area of research which combines biology and modern engineering. “…we are interested in developing a user community that is familiar enough with the principles and parameters of synthetic biology to generate new ideas, identify new questions and create their own solutions,” says Jonathan Barone, the Nanocrafter Project Lead.

Synthetic biology is still a small field of scientific research, with only 50 laboratories worldwide working on DNA programing, which “holds great promise in diagnostics, therapeutics and nanoscale manufacturing”, as described on the University of Washington Center for Game Science (CGS) Nanocrafter’s webpage. That’s why CGS launched this game, in order to spread the knowledge of synthetic biology and increase the number of people interested in this field by orders of magnitude.

A multidisciplinary team of researchers at the University of Washington has designed a game that allows anyone to build computer models of biological devices through the application of basic principles of DNA biochemistry. It probably sounds overwhelming for a beginner in bioprogramming, but the game is built in a way that teaches you the basic principles and possible ways in which DNA can be manipulated to build nanomachines step-by-step, as you advance through different levels of this puzzle game.

“Once users master the principles, they can try biweekly challenges. Challenges might replicate existing research or be a problem the Nanocrafter team thought up,” said Barone. If the Nanocrafter team finds some of the solutions offered by players sound enough theoretically, they will present them to scientists to try them out in their labs.

If you’re interested in building real nanomachines out of DNA, you can play Nanocrafter online at