People playing a game called Foldit helped science figure out the protein structure of an AIDS-like virus found in rhesus monkeys. That might not sound like a big deal (or make much sense), but it will help scientists develop a cure for said AIDS-like virus.
Proteins are the basic building block of pretty much anything in biology. Piecing proteins together makes the sub-structures inside each living cell. If you can figure out how proteins are built and work, then you can figure out how the cell is built and works, and possibly change it. The only problem is it’s really difficult even for supercomputers to figure out how proteins are made. Enter Foldit, a game that lets humans take a crack at deciphering protein structure. The closer they are to the right answer, the higher their score is. People can talk about solutions and even take up where other people left off. It’s molecular biology’s method of “Ask the Audience” like in the game show Who Wants to be a Millionaire? The solution with the highest score is analyzed by capital-S Scientists and refined until you get the structure that is seen in actual nature.
A specific protein that works in the monkey AIDS virus has stumped science for over a decade. From MSNBC:
Fortunately, the challenge fit the current capabilities of the Foldit game, so Khatib and his colleagues put the puzzle out there for Foldit’s teams to work on. “This was really kind of a last-ditch effort,” he recalled. “Can the Foldit players really solve it?”
They could. “They actually did it in less than 10 days,” Khatib said.
Science just got pwnt. ggz, scientists.
You can download and play Foldit here.