Video gamers have solved the structure of a retrovirus protein that may possibly help scientists design a new AIDS drug.
The complex structure of the protein, called a protease, had baffled scientists for over a decade. Protease plays a critical role in how viruses such as HIV multiply. However, the protein’s structure had been extremely difficult to decipher, hampering the research to develop drugs that could deactivate proteases.
A program created a few years ago by the University of Washington called Foldit which transforms science problems into competitive computer games was used by researchers at the university to solve the structure. Gamers were challenged to build models of the protein using their three-dimensional problem-solving skills.
Within days, models were made for the researchers to identify the enzyme’s structure.
"The ingenuity of game players is a formidable force that, if properly directed, can be used to solve a wide range of scientific problems," said Firas Khatib, a lead author of the study.
Co-creator of Foldit Seth Cooper said, "People have spatial reasoning skills, something computers are not yet good at. 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."