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Gamers Succeed Where Scientists Fail


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Firas Khatib

Firas Khatib was one of the UW protein biologists who tapped into the science discovery skills of Fold-it game players.

Credit: Courtesy of University of Washington

Gamers have produced an accurate model of the structure of a retrovirus enzyme within three weeks, according to University of Washington researchers.

The model was good enough for the researchers to determine the structure of a protein-cutting enzyme from an AIDS-like virus. Scientists have been trying to determine the configuration of this class of enzymes, called retroviral proteases, for more than a decade.

"We wanted to see if human intuition could succeed where automated methods had failed," says Washington researcher Firas Khatib.

The players used the game Fold-it, which was created by computer scientists at the university's Center for Game Science in collaboration with Washington professor David Baker. The online protein folding game, which allows players to collaborate and compete in predicting the structure of protein molecules, has thousands of players worldwide.

The model generated by the gamers "indicates the power of online computer games to channel human intuition and three-dimensional pattern-matching skills to solve challenging scientific problems," according to the researchers. Scientists could potentially use the model in the development of retroviral drugs, including AIDS medications.

From UW News
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