Gamers help AIDS researchers decipher structure of virus protein

By Stephany Nunneley
20 September 2011 17:53 GMT

Thanks to spatial reasoning skills and a competitive gaming program called Foldit, gamers have helped scientists produce an online model of a retrovirus protein which could help design a new AIDS drug.

The structure of the protein has “stumped scientists for over a decade,” according to the FOX News report, and in just three weeks, gamers generated models of the protease protein which were accurate enough for researchers at the University of Washington to turn into an accurate diagram of the enzyme’s structure.

“These features provide opportunities for the design of antiretroviral drugs, including anti-HIV drugs,” wrote the researchers in a study published in the journal Nature Structural & Molecular Biology.

“We wanted to see if human intuition could succeed where automated methods had failed,” added Firas Khatib, a lead author of the study. “The ingenuity of game players is a formidable force that, if properly directed, can be used to solve a wide range of scientific problems.”

The researchers believe the new findings by the gamers will open up new possibilities of “crowd-sourcing and online game-playing in scientific discovery.”

Developed a few years ago, Foldit was designed by University of Washington as competitive computer which challenges players to solve problems of science by using “three-dimensional problem-solving skills.”

“People have spatial reasoning skills, something computers are not yet good at,” said Foldit co-creator Seth Coope. “Games provide a framework for bringing together the strengths of computers and humans.

“The results in this week’s paper show that gaming, science and computation can be combined to make advances that were not possible before.”

Thanks, Saxon.

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