Who says solving potential outbreaks are no fun? An online game now offers players a chance to help solve real-life diseases.
By playing the multiplayer online game dubbed "Foldit," two teams of researchers mapped out an HIV-related protein whose elusive shape had puzzled scientists for a long time.
"Surprisingly, it seems that teams of human beings motivated by curiosity and competition might do this better than the most sophisticated computers," said a report on Popular Mechanics.
For now, "Foldit" players have been asked to design a new protein that will bind to a flu virus and stop it in its tracks.
Last year, the two teams of gamers co-authored a paper describing the HIV-related protein that had long stumped scientists.
Not only did they figure out the protein's elusive shape, they did it in just three weeks, Popular Mechanics noted.
Popular Mechanics noted protein folding is one of the hardest computational problems in biology.
"A protein's function partially depends on how its long chains of chemical building blocks fold into a compact and chemically stable shape. And determining that shape can lead to new treatments for diseases such as cancer, AIDS, and Alzheimer's," it added.
Playing the game
Players in the game can wiggle, shake, and pull digital models of proteins into new shapes. They get higher scores if the shapes are more compact.
But more importantly, players who cooperated tended to be most effective.
"You don't find many soloists among the top scorers," said Doreen DeSorbo, a Web designer and a global moderator for the game.
The moves in the game include:
Rebuild, tests alternative shapes for tough protein segments Wiggle, settles a chain to compact it Shake, shakes up the protein's side chains Rubber Band, creates a link between two sections Freeze, immobilizes part of a protein.
Tweak, rotates a component Pull Undo
— TJD, GMA News