Online gamers crack AIDS enzyme puzzle
"The ingenuity of game players is a formidable force that, if properly directed, can be used to solve a wide range of scientific problems."
- Firas Khatib of the university's biochemistry lab
Online gamers have achieved a feat beyond the realm of Second Life or Dungeons and Dragons: they have deciphered the structure of an enzyme of an AIDS-like virus that had thwarted scientists for a decade.
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.
To the astonishment of the scientists, the gamers produced an accurate model of the enzyme in just three weeks.
Cracking the enzyme "provides new insights for the design of antiretroviral drugs," says the study, referring to the lifeline medication against the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).
It is believed to be the first time that gamers have resolved a long-standing scientific problem.