It's no secret that problem-solving can become a lot less arduous with the help of a rewards system. As gamers, we understand that a timeless passion and a monotonous challenge can often be one and the same. At the University of Washington, students from the Computer Science and Engineering department collaborated with the department of Biochemistry, using the hobby of gaming to learn more about how proteins come together to form living tissue.
Through traditional research, scientists have learned that the proteins we produce come together to form our DNA. Proteins are complex, however, and creating accurate three-dimensional models showing the exact structures of each is difficult even for computers. Enter Foldit, a game created to allow players to manipulate a graphical model of various proteins. Basically, Foldit provides players with a protein puzzle and tasks them to figure out how each piece of the protein comes together to form a whole 3D molecule. Using the data collected from the puzzles, algorithms can be created to assist computers in thinking more like humans, who are able to use spatial reasoning for problem solving.
Most puzzles created for the program involve proteins with an existing knowledge base. In just three weeks, however, gamers were able to create an accurate 3D model of M-PMV retroviral protease, which is linked to an AIDS-like virus. Scientists previously spent a decade attempting to decipher the structure of the protease; proteases are said to play a vital role in the reproduction of some viruses (like HIV). Thanks to the results of Foldit, scientists can now continue research on creating AIDS drugs that can deactivate proteases and stop the spread of the disease.
If you'd like to take part in the research, and maybe even get the high score (yes, this game does have scoring), then visit Foldit's official webpage at http://fold.it/
For more reading on this topic, visit Fox News' article
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