You no longer need a Ph. D. to make an incredible scientific breakthrough.
A 15-year-old AIDS problem was recently solved in just three weeks using a new online game site that allows users to contribute in decoding complex proteins. Fold.it users incredibly modeled the enzyme, Mason-Pfizer monkey virus (M-PMV) retroviral protease, in a manner that matched crystalline structures observed by scientists.
Simply put, Fold.it allows users to predict the shape of a protein and map it, using a game-like structure. The better the model, the more points you get.
In this case, however, scientists experimented with giving users three weeks to create a model of a protein that scientists haven't been able to model on the molecular level themselves. At the end of the three-week period, scientists compared the best models to x-ray crystallography of the protein. They discovered that at least one group of players had determined the correct structure for it, according to the Fold.it. blog.
The findings were published in structural and molecular biology section of the Sept. 18 version of the journal Nature. Fold.it has gained over 236,000 players since it started in 2008.
Amazingly, according to PC Magazine, few of the players involved had any background in biochemistry at all.
Fold.it was developed by researchers at the University of Washington with the hopes of bringing a human element back to the modeling process. "People have spatial reasoning skills, something computers are not yet good at," Seth Cooper, Fold.it's lead developer, said in a news release according to MSNBC. "Games provide a framework for bringing together the strengths of computers and humans."
However, the protein revelation is just one small part of the AIDS puzzle. It appears in the monkey version of AIDS, and plays a key role in the multiplication of the virus. With an accurate model of this protein, drugs can be created that could potentially help stymie the multiplication of the virus in humans.
UPDATE: While the open time frame for creating the structure online was 3 weeks, according to MSNBC the correct answer was found in just 10 days.
WATCH the report from MSNBC: