The Mommy Gamers

Scientists: 10 years. Gamers: 10 days.

Foldit_smallWhen people scoff at you for gaming, show them this: in 10 days, gamers helped Washington University scientists decipher the structure of an HIV-like enzyme that they’ve been struggling with for over 10 years.

Scientists have been studying the M-PMV retroviral protein for 10 years in the hope that by learning how this protein works, they can also learn more about HIV/AIDS and possibly work towards a cure. One of the ways scientists study proteins is by folding. The shape of the protein helps to determine its bonds, and tells scientists what it can do, and what drugs may help to counteract them.

Foldit is a puzzle game that attempts to use our pattern-recognition, puzzle-solving, and intuitive abilities to help this process along. As living, thinking beings we can make leaps of faith or intuition that computers can’t. By harnessing these organic abilities, the Foldit team also hopes to be able to “teach” computers to be able to do the same.

So after 10 years of nothing, a biologist at Washington University sent the 3D model of M-PMV to Foldit, just to see if any headway could be made. Using distributed computing, players came through!

“The critical role of Foldit players in the solution of the M-PMV [retroviral protease] structure shows the power of online games to channel human intuition and three-dimensional pattern-matching skills to solve challenging scientific problems,” said the study, which was published by Nature Structural & Molecular Biology. “Although much attention has recently been given to the potential of crowdsourcing and game playing, this is the first instance that we are aware of in which online gamers solved a longstanding scientific problem.” – Seth Cooper, Washington University computer scientist and lead designer and developer of Foldit

This is probably the highest and best use of games: saving lives.

Source: ZME Science


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