Feeds

Online gamers strike major blow in battle against AIDS

Distributed human-brain cluster cracks protein conundrum

  • alert
  • submit to reddit

Beginner's guide to SSL certificates

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)

Choosing a cloud hosting partner with confidence

More from The Register

next story
Ex-Soviet engines fingered after Antares ROCKET launch BLAST
Speculation rife, but Orbital claims it's too early to tell
Voyager 1 now EIGHTEEN LIGHT HOURS from home
Almost 20 BEEELION kilometres from Sol
MEN: For pity's sake SLEEP with LOTS of WOMEN - and avoid Prostate Cancer
And, um, don't sleep with other men. If that's what worries you
Jim Beam me up, Scotty! WHISKY from SPAAACE returns to Earth
They're insured for $1m, before you thirsty folks make plans
ROGUE SAIL BOAT blocks SPACE STATION PODULE blastoff
Er, we think our ISS launch beats your fishing expedition
NASA: Spacecraft crash site FOUND ON MOON RIM
'What fun!' exlaims NASA boffin who found the LADEE
BAE points electromagnetic projectile at US Army
Railguns for 'Future fighting vehicle'
OK Google, do I have CANCER?
Company talks up pill that would spot developing tumors
prev story

Whitepapers

Cloud and hybrid-cloud data protection for VMware
Learn how quick and easy it is to configure backups and perform restores for VMware environments.
Getting started with customer-focused identity management
Learn why identity is a fundamental requirement to digital growth, and how without it there is no way to identify and engage customers in a meaningful way.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.
Top 5 reasons to deploy VMware with Tegile
Data demand and the rise of virtualization is challenging IT teams to deliver storage performance, scalability and capacity that can keep up, while maximizing efficiency.
Mitigating web security risk with SSL certificates
Web-based systems are essential tools for running business processes and delivering services to customers.