For more than a decade, scientists have been trying to crack the code of an enzyme crucial to the replication of HIV. It took the gaming community less than three weeks, Gizmodo reported .
In a new study released in the journal Nature Structural & Molecular Biology , University of Washington researchers describe how, by using a three-dimensional gaming site called Foldit, gamers found a way to accurately predict the structure of the protein. This in turn allowed scientists to discover exact locations to stop the virus' growth.
This opens the door, according to researchers, for new, more effective treatments for HIV/AIDS patients, reported Gizmodo.com.
Foldit is a program created by scientists at the University of Washington in 2008 to help decipher perplexing scientific challenges by turning them into competitive computer games, PC World reported .
By using three-dimensional computer models, gamers were able to recreate, with accuracy, the enzyme – or protease – responsible for the replication of some viruses, including HIV.
"Remarkably, Foldit players were able to generate models of sufficient quality for successful molecular replacement and subsequent structure determination," the study said. "The refined structure provides new insights for the design of anti-retroviral drugs."
Previously, gamers using the Foldit program were able to solve structure refinement problems with other proteins. This time, the challenge was to stop the Mason-Pfizer monkey virus (M-PMV) from progressing into simian AIDS in rhesus monkeys. By working together, several different teams of gamers were able to create accurate models of the proteins – a beginning to solving the problem of replication.
Games like Foldit may go a long way toward helping researchers find solutions to other challenges as well, researchers said.
"Scientists are interested in working out the three-dimensional structure of proteins because they help understand how the proteins carry out their jobs, what they do inside cells," David Baker, a professor of biochemistry at the University of Washington, told PC World.
"People put a huge amount of energy into playing games on computers, so I think projects like this can channel that energy into solving real-world problems."
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