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It only took gamers three weeks to crack the structure of a key protein in the development of AIDS using an online game called Foldit. Scientists previously made “a wide range of attempts to solve the crystal structure,” according to the journal Nature Structural & Molecular Biology, and the new discovery could mean a breakthrough for research in AIDS and HIV.
The protein, or retroviral protease, plays a crucial role in how HIV multiplies. Scientists plan to use this new information to aid in the development of drugs that would stop the protease from spreading.
Foldit was created by researchers at the University of Washington, giving gamers the opportunity to “solve puzzles for science.” The primary goal set for gamers is to predict the unknown structure of proteins using spatial and critical thinking skills. They are challenged to build 3D models of protease by folding the protein into a shape that will ideally translate into a scientific representation of the protein.
Other breakthroughs have been made in the science field using Foldit, especially in Cancer and Alzheimer’s research. Creators expect to “take folding strategies that humans have come up with while playing the game, and automate these strategies to make protein-prediction software more effective.” Since there are currently not a lot of automated methods to design protein, Foldit’s human folders don’t have to worry about competition from ‘the machines.’