Unable to crack the structure of a particular enzyme, researchers turned to a group of experts at Foldit, a game about protein folding
In a bizarre research move researchers recruited online gamers to help them with a scientific conundrum that they had not been able to crack. Not only did the gamers tackle the puzzle, but they solved it with flying colors. What does this tell us about the medical research process today?
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The gamers were skilled at playing an online game called Foldit, in which players around the globe compete with each other to figure out how to fold proteins into their final form. Proteins start out as long strings of amino acids, and have to be folded intricately to arrive at their final, 3-D structure.
Researchers had not been able to crack the structure of a particular enzyme, a retroviral protease, that plays a key role in the maturation process of the AIDS virus. The hope is to design drugs that attack the enzymes, but fully understanding the enzyme's structure is critical before drugs can be developed.
So the researchers turned to a group of Foldit experts to solve the problem. "We wanted to see if human intuition could succeed where automated methods had failed," said study author Firas Khatib.