So much for people who say there's "no point" to playing video games...
A group of online gamers have solved a molecular puzzle that stumped scientists for years and could become key to finding a cure for AIDS. The gamers needed only three weeks to predict the structure of an enzyme that plays a critical role in the way HIV multiplies. Solving the puzzle has eluded scientists for for more than a decade, reports Raw Story.
Their target was a monomeric protease enzyme, a cutting agent in the complex molecular tailoring of retroviruses, a family that includes HIV. Figuring out the structure of proteins is vital for understanding the causes of many diseases and developing drugs to block them.
But a microscope gives only a flat image of what to the outsider looks like a plate of one-dimensional scrunched-up spaghetti. Pharmacologists, though, need a 3-D picture that "unfolds" the molecule and rotates it in order to reveal potential targets for drugs.
This is where Foldit comes in. Developed in 2008 by the University of Washington, it is a fun-for-purpose video game in which gamers, divided into competing groups, compete to unfold chains of amino acids -- the building blocks of proteins -- using a set of online tools.
PC Mag adds: "According to Fox, it took players a matter of days to come up with models that were solid enough for researchers to translate into scientific rendering of the protein. ... Foldit has not only made this breakthrough with AIDS research, but it has also aided in Cancer and Alzheimer’s research."