Gamers Level Up Scientists, Take on AIDS

Scientists leveled up this week with the help of some online gamers. Players from the site Foldit were able to unravel an enzyme structure that caused an AIDS-like virus in rhesus monkeys, something scientists have been trying to solve for the past decade. The gamers figured it out in three weeks.

Foldit users were able to map out an enzyme called M-PMV, which is found in retroviruses like HIV. They created a 3-D model of the enzyme, where before scientists had only a flat, one-dimensional image of the virus.

The discovery was published this week in the journal Nature Structural & Molecular Biology, where Foldit and their players were acknowledged for their work.

In 2008, the University of Washington’s Center of Game Science developed Foldit as a way for gamers to help solve protein-structure prediction problems. The goal is to manipulate the structures in such a way that the model maintain the lowest energy cost. It’s something no super computer was ever able to figure out.

According to Seth Cooper, one of Foldit’s co-creators, the success lies on human intelligence. “People have spatial reasoning skills, something computers are not yet good at.”