Biotech Updates

Online Gamers Help UW Researchers Solve AIDS Mystery

September 23, 2011

Scientists from the University of Washington (UW) sought the help of gamers to configure the structure of a retrovirus enzyme linked to AIDS. The game involved in this breakthrough is Foldit, an online game that allows players to collaborate and compete in predicting the structure of protein molecules. According to the UW researchers, this is the first time that researchers have teamed up with game experts to solve a long-standing scientific puzzle. The scientists have been working to solve the puzzle for more than a decade but the gamers solved it for only a few days. This implies that humans and computer models can learn from each other in real-time.

"People have spatial reasoning skills, something computers are not yet good at," said Seth Cooper of the UW Department of Computing Science and Engineering, who is a co-creator of Foldit. "Games provide a framework for bringing together the strengths of computers and humans. The results in this week's paper show that gaming, science, and computation can be combined to make advances that were not possible before."

Now that the scientists know the structure of the enzyme, they are hoping that the information will help speed up the development of anti-AIDS drugs that can inhibit the enzymes.

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