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Gamers' discovery could generate anti-HIV drugs

 09.20.2011 4:40am
Thread Creator

Just Giv'r

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Online gamers have solved a molecular biology puzzle that may lead to new drugs to fight HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

"This is the first instance we are aware of in which online gamers solved a long-standing scientific problem," said a blog posting on the website for Foldit, the protein folding game that tapped the gamers' skills to solve the puzzle.

"This is truly an amazing accomplishment," added another blog posting on the site. "All Foldit players should be proud."

A paper describing the solution was published online Sunday in Nature Structural &amp; Molecular Biology. It specifically cited the contributions of gamers known by the usernames spvincent, grabhorn and mimi.

Foldit is a game released by University of Washington biochemist David Baker and his colleagues in 2009. Players compete and co-operate to find the best ways to fold a protein into a 3D structure based on the laws of physics. The shape of a folded protein is crucial to its function as a lock or key in biological processes.

The problem solved by Foldit players recently involved a protein from the virus that causes AIDS in rhesus monkeys. The protein, called a retroviral protease, has "critical roles in viral maturation and proliferation," the paper said. Researchers have been trying to figure out its shape for 15 years.

Foldit players managed to solve the puzzle in just a few days. Their solution was confirmed as the correct one by comparing the X-ray pattern it would have produced to the actual X-ray pattern produced by the protein.

"These results indi&shy;cate the potential for integrating video games into the real-world scientific process: the ingenuity of game players is a formidable force that, if properly directed, can be used to solve a wide range of scientific problems," the paper concluded.

That resulting structure can be used in the design of antiretroviral drugs, including anti-HIV drugs, the paper said. Such drugs could bind to the protein if they are the right shape.

In particular, the protein is only active when two individual units join together, so researchers are hoping to design drugs that can prevent two units from joining.

Foldit's inventors published a paper last August showing that human Foldit players were better than computers at solving protein folding problems.

Researchers at McGill University have invented a similar game that taps video game players to find similarities between DNA sequences among different organisms that could help discover proteins important throughout evolutionary history.

Just saw this, figured I'd share it. Sounds fascinating but I've only had a chance to glance at it. Thoughts?

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 09.20.2011 5:16am

Crono can cross dimensions too!

Protein folding is crazy stuff. I did (math) research under a PhD who did all his work in the field and the insane amount of computation you need for stuff like this is insane. Some of you may remember PS3s being used to add computing power for running a folding program.

I don't remember much about folding at this point but it's definitely cool fellow gaming nerds are helping out in more than just "here use my hardware" ways.

Currently Playing: Dark Cloud 2: 3 hours.
Also Playing: CT, FF VI, Solatorobo, Secret of Mana, Halo 4.
Just Finished: Fable II: 7 hours.

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 09.20.2011 6:11am

Monetary Dragon
Just keep swimming

From the article:

"Their solution was confirmed as the correct one by comparing the X-ray pattern it would have produced to the actual X-ray pattern produced by the protein."

Normally, when we solve a protein's structure, it's by way of making a crystal of the protein, passing X-rays through the crystal, and then, based on the X-ray diffraction pattern, back-calculate the precise locations of every atom in the crystal pattern. Depending on things like protein purity and intrinsic rigidity, the pattern produced by a crystal may or may not be sufficient to allow the protein's structure to be calculated.

The two major obstacles to overcome here are (1) getting a crystal and (2) having it diffract well. From this, it seems like the second of those obstacles may soon be no longer nearly as big of a problem as it has been. It sounds like, from the article, we had poor X-ray data fot his protein, not enough to solve the structure outright, but enough to be able to confirm a correct solution.

This is very good news for structural biologists.

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 09.20.2011 7:43am

Dr. Fantabulous

This is the most clever and awesome use of the concept of outsourcing I have ever heard of.

"Well, your brain seems to work a little bit." -- Rune Walsh, Phantasy Star IV.

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 09.20.2011 7:52am


I've played the game a handful of times, it's a really interesting concept. And it definitely has proved a faster result than anyone expected.

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 09.21.2011 9:23pm

So Sigh Ety

Wow that's incredible! Never expected something like that to be honest. The only thing I'm good at folding are paper airplanes, i'm sure gamers are among the best at this forte.

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 09.22.2011 2:41am

A mental Dentist's office

That's stupendous! Way to go! This is great they can finally know more about what they're up against.

Not surprising setting a puzzle before someone and letting them play around with it whenever.

I'd like to mess around with that program sometime.

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 11.19.2014 9:49am

Registered Member

This is really interesting! Everyone loves earning achievements in games, but what if that achievement was solving a decade-old puzzle that confused AIDS researchers for years? The treatment of HIV and AIDS has been fundamentally the same since 1996. The identical drugs on essentially the same routines are recommended. One of the primary difficulties for researchers has been untangling how the enzymes of the virus work and interact. Using a game called "Foldit", players have deciphered the crystal structure of protein that causes AIDS in rhesus monkeys. It had confused scientist for several years, but took gamers about 3 weeks to solve. What a remarkable achievement!

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 12.08.2014 1:48pm
 (Edited on 12.11.2014 at 10:57am)

Registered Member

this is truly ok, i am thankfull for knowing thisĀ

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