FoldIt – gamers vs. HIV?

05Oct11

Ages ago I went to a Russell Davies talk in which he spoke about the Google ESP game, which turned a tricky task for a robot (tagging images) into a fun game for humans. Clever stuff. Though computers think quicker than we do and are great with the complex calculations, humans are still much better at solving problems with intuition and non-lateral thinking.

And that’s the idea behind FoldIt, an online game where you have to solve complex puzzles about how proteins fold. Apparently that’s one of the trickiest areas of biology and one that has serious impact on how we tackle diseases.

FoldIt’s founders have just published research saying that players “provided the crucial insights to solve the structure of a protein-sniping enzyme critical for reproduction of the AIDS virus,” according to Scientific American. “With help from game-players’ strategies, researchers revealed the enzymes’ structure within three weeks and identified targets for drugs to neutralize it.” (my emphasis)

What? It took three weeks for gamers to come up with the solution? Alright, granted, it’s not a cure for AIDS yet, but that’s a hell of a thing, no? Using crowdsourcing and games to take on medical problems. And it works! What an innovative approach to research.

For more deets, or to have a go at “solving puzzles for science” head to the FoldIt site, and if you’ve got any more examples of this sort of thing do drop me a line.

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