Feeds

Online gamers strike major blow in battle against AIDS

Distributed human-brain cluster cracks protein conundrum

  • alert
  • submit to reddit

High performance access to file storage

A bunch of gamers have untangled the structure of a key protein in the virus that causes AIDS, a mystery that has left scientists stumped for decades.

It took just three weeks for players of online game Foldit to predict an accurate model for the protein – a type of enzyme called a retroviral protease that has a critical role in how the HI virus grows and spreads.

The game Foldit was specially designed to help work out the structure of proteins. It combines computer intelligence with human spatial abilities by asking players to tweak and tug 3D models, a task that computers find hard to do.

A model of protein on online game Foldit, credit: Foldit

A screengrab of online protein-folding game, Foldit

The gamers – most of whom have no background in biochemistry – generated models good enough for the researchers to refine and, within a few days, determine the enzyme's structure. In the research published yesterday in Nature Structural & Molecular Biology, lead authors biochemists Firas Khatib and Frank DiMaio gave gamers equal billing with the rest of their biochemist co-authors.

Amazingly, surfaces on the molecule stood out as likely targets for drugs to de-active the enzyme. "These features provide exciting opportunities for the design of retroviral drugs, including AIDS drugs," wrote the authors of the paper.

The solution of the virus enzyme structure, the researchers said, "indicates the power of online computer games to channel human intuition and three-dimensional pattern matching skills to solve challenging scientific problems."

Proteins are made of long chains of amino acids that tend to fold up in particular ways. Understanding the shapes that the amino acids fold up into is important in working out what they do, and – in the case of disease proteins – finding means of stopping them doing it. The scientists behind Foldit explain:

Every kind of protein folds up into a very specific shape – the same shape every time [...] The more we know about how certain proteins fold, the better new proteins we can design to combat the disease-related proteins and cure the diseases.

The research was published on 18 September in Nature Structural & Molecular Biology.

A PDF of the research is available here (3-page/812KB PDF)

High performance access to file storage

More from The Register

next story
Elon Musk's LEAKY THRUSTER gas stalls Space Station supply run
Helium seeps from Falcon 9 first stage, delays new legs for NASA robonaut
Red-faced LOHAN team 'fesses up in blown SPEARS fuse fiasco
Standing in the corner, big pointy 'D' hats
KILLER SPONGES menacing California coastline
Surfers are safe, crustaceans less so
LOHAN's Punch and Judy show relaunches Thursday
Weather looking good for second pop at test flights
Discovery time for 200m WONDER MATERIALS shaved from 4 MILLENNIA... to 4 years
Alloy, Alloy: Boffins in speed-classification breakthrough
Curiosity finds not-very-Australian-shaped rock on Mars
File under 'messianic pastries' and move on, people
Top Secret US payload launched into space successfully
Clandestine NRO spacecraft sets off on its unknown mission
Get your MOON GEAR: Auction to feature Space Race memorabilia
Keepsakes from early NASA, Soviet programs up for bids
New FEMTO-MOON sighted BIRTHING from Saturn's RING
Icy 'Peggy' looks to be leaving the outer rings
prev story

Whitepapers

Securing web applications made simple and scalable
In this whitepaper learn how automated security testing can provide a simple and scalable way to protect your web applications.
Five 3D headsets to be won!
We were so impressed by the Durovis Dive headset we’ve asked the company to give some away to Reg readers.
HP ArcSight ESM solution helps Finansbank
Based on their experience using HP ArcSight Enterprise Security Manager for IT security operations, Finansbank moved to HP ArcSight ESM for fraud management.
The benefits of software based PBX
Why you should break free from your proprietary PBX and how to leverage your existing server hardware.
Mobile application security study
Download this report to see the alarming realities regarding the sheer number of applications vulnerable to attack, as well as the most common and easily addressable vulnerability errors.