By Carol Pinchefsky, Source: Blastr.com
You don’t need to be a scientist to determine the structure of an enzyme whose configuration is unknown. It turns out you can just be a gamer.
For the last 10 years, scientists had failed to resolve the configuration of an enzyme, the retroviral protease of M-PMV, which causes AIDS in simians.
This class of enzymes, called retroviral proteases, has a critical role in how the AIDS virus matures and proliferates. Intensive research is under way to try to find anti-AIDS drugs that can block these enzymes, but efforts were hampered by not knowing exactly what the retroviral protease molecule looks like.
Eventually, the scientists gave their work over to a game called Foldit. The academic paper, “Crystal structure of a monomeric retroviral protease solved by protein folding game players,” relates:
Foldit players leverage human three-dimensional problem-solving skills to inter- act with protein structures using direct manipulation tools and algo- rithms…. Players collaborate with teammates while competing with other players to obtain the highest-scoring (lowest-energy) models.
So after turning a problem into a game, with competition against other plays and the prize of academic publication, the problem was solved. In three weeks.
As a result, scientists may now develop drugs that can deactivate the enzyme. In the best-case scenario, the right drug might prevent HIV from ever developing into AIDS.
Thanks to a game.
Note: You can use Foldit to solve puzzles for science (or as we like to call it SCIENCE!), at the Foldit website. You don’t need a background in chemistry or biology to participate, just good spatial awareness and an ability to solve 3-D puzzles.