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Wednesday, February 05, 2014, 09:23 am PT (12:23 pm ET)

Play to Cure: new iOS game lets players help cure cancer as they surf through space

British charity Cancer Research UK on Wednesday released Genes in Space, an intergalactic perpetual flight game for Apple's iOS that leverages users' in-game activity to search out patterns in DNA microarray data.



Gamers are put in command of a spaceship and sent on a mission to collect "Element Alpha," a fictional material that helps power the space exploration effort. The valuable element can be bought and sold on an in-game market for credits that allow users to upgrade their ship with faster engine, more powerful weapons, or stronger shields.

The game's maps are generated from real-life DNA microarray data that is waiting to be analyzed. By playing, users are actually helping researchers identify patterns in the data that could lead to the discovery of genetic faults that cause cancer.

Offline play is possible, but the game does require an internet connection to transmit DNA information between the handset and research labs. The developers say that each transfer uses approximately 250 kilobytes of data.

Genes in Space version 1.1 is available now as a free, 99.8-megabyte download from the App Store.