In an amazing and unusual turn of events, online gamers from the United States have helped unlock the structure of an AIDS-related enzyme that has been puzzling the scientific community for decades.
The solution that they helped answer represent a very significant step forward in the quest to cure AIDS. AIDS, or Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, compromises an infected person’s cellular immunity, making him/her less resistant to infection. Is has been considered a worldwide epidemic, infecting more than 33 million people in the world.
Using a game called Foldit, the players were able to predict the structure of retroviral protease, which is a key component in determining how the virus spreads. Unlocking the protein’s build could theoretically help scientists develop drugs that would stop the spread of protease.
“Following the failure of a wide range of attempts to solve the crystal structure of M-PMV retroviral protease by molecular replacement, we challenged players of the protein folding game Foldit to produce accurate models of the protein,” reads the study. “Remarkably, Foldit players were able to generate models of sufficient quality for successful molecular replacement and subsequent structure determination. The refined structure provides new insights for the design of antiretroviral drugs.”
Foldit is an online game developed by researchers at the University of Washington that turns scientific problems to games. Players are tasked to use critical thinking skills to build 3D models of protease and only a handful of these players have any background in biochemistry.
Foldit has also aided in Alzheimer’s and Cancer research.