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Sep21-11, 08:27 PM
Gamers crack AIDS puzzle that foxed scientists
AFP Sep 20, 2011, 07.25pm IST
Creative and cool
, simply outstanding...
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.
The exploit is published on Sunday in journal Nature Structural & Molecular Biology , where — exceptionally in scientific publishing — both gamers and researchers are honoured as co-authors.
But a microscope gives only a flat image of what to the outsider looks like a plate of one-dimensional scrunched-up spaghetti and researchers needed a 3D look.
This is where Foldit comes in. Developed in 2008 by the University of Washington, it is a fun-for-purpose video game in which gamers compete to unfold chains of amino acids.
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.
Firas Khatib of the university's biochemistry lab said, "The ingenuity of game players is a formidable force that can be used to solve a lot of scientific problems." One of Foldit's creators, Seth Cooper, explained why gamers had succeeded.
"People have spatial reasoning skills, something computers are not yet good at," he said. "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.
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