Gaming is considered a waste of time by some people. However, anyone who has been a gamer for a while, can tell you that playing computer games has many benefits – it relaxes the mind, can distract you when you are worried, helps you vent anger and improve your coordination and wits.
It now appears, that gamers can put their skills to even better uses – like helping science solve some mysteries. This time, gamers helped scientists to decipher the structure of an enzyme of an AIDS-like virus. This enzyme has baffled scientists for a long time. It is a monomeric protease enzyme, a cutting agent in the complex molecular tailoring of retroviruses, a family that includes HIV. The problem was, that the enzyme cannot be fully analyzed under a microscope, but needed to be displayed as 3D.
Thus, the University of Washington decided to ask online gamers to help it solve the structure of the enzyme. They used a hi-tech device called Foldit. Unlike other medical devices, Foldit is a fun-with purpose device that can be used to analyze and to see the enzymes clearly. The gamers were divided into two competing teams to unfold the chains of their amino acids using a set of online tools. And, like bosses, the gamers nailed it.
Now that the structure of the enzyme is clear, there might be new insights for antiretroviral drugs, the medication against HIV.