Online gamers playing a game called Foldit “cracked a key protein structure problem that has had scientists scratching their heads for years…in three weeks.”
Foldit invites players to predict protein structures. The game was developed by researchers at the University of Washington, as a deliberate way to get gamers to compete by solving scientific problems. The game requires they use spatial and critical thinking skills to build 3D models of protein molecules. In this case, they were invited to build models of M-PMV, a protease enzyme that plays a key role in how a virus similar to HIV replicates in cells. Few of the players had any background in biochemistry.
By solving the mystery of the 3D structure of the protein, the gamers have helped scientists move a step forward in developing a drug that could stop viruses like HIV from spreading.