Sorry if this is already posted, just got back from a road trip and didn't see it on the first page here.
AIDS research just took a big step forward, and you can thank gamers for that.
Scientists had long been puzzled by the molecular structure of a protein-cutting enzyme classified as a “retroviral proteases” and found in an AIDS-like virus afflicting rhesus monkeys. The enzyme helps the virus spread, and it could hold a secret about how AIDS and other diseases are transmitted.
A researcher at the UW thought it might help to crowd source the problem. Dr. Firas Khatib of the University of Washington Department of Biochemistry posted the dilemma on Foldit, an online game where players can collaborate and compete in predicting the structure of protein molecules.
Sure, that might not sound like much fun to the average Joe. But gamers on Foldit solved the puzzle in less than 10 days.
“We wanted to see if human intuition could succeed where automated methods had failed,” said Khatib said in a prepared statement from UW.
Humans, 1. Automated methods, 0.Thought it was pretty cool(Foldit) is designed so that players can manipulate virtual molecular structures that look like multicolored, curled-up Tinkertoy sets. The virtual molecules follow the same chemical rules that are obeyed by real molecules. When someone playing the game comes up with a more elegant structure that reflects a lower energy state for the molecule, his or her score goes up. If the structure requires more energy to maintain, or if it doesn’t reflect real-life chemistry, then the score is lower…
The monkey-virus puzzle was one of several unsolved molecular mysteries that a colleague of Khatib’s at the university, Frank DiMaio, recently tried to solve using a method that took advantage of a protein-folding computer program called Rosetta. “This was one of the cases where his method wasn’t able to solve it,” Khatib said.