Foldit gamers solve HIV protein puzzle

TR readers may be familiar with protein-folding projects like Folding@home, which harness the computational power of dormant PCs (or dedicated Frankenbot farms) to perform scientific calculations. There’s more than one way to fold a protein on a PC, though. A game called Foldit allows players to manipulate protein structures in real time, and gamers playing Foldit have managed to crack a troublesome enzyme structure that had puzzled scientists for 15 years.This particular monomeric protease enzyme is part of a family of retroviruses that includes HIV. According to the folks at Foldit, this is the first time gamers have been credited with solving a real scientific problem—no, the puzzles in Portal don’t count.

Foldit’s findings have been published (PDF) by Nature Structural & Molecular Biology, which explains things in much greater detail. A combination of human intuition and our ability to match patterns in three-dimensional space is credited for the discovery, which of course wouldn’t have been possible without Foldit. The game allows players to cooperate on teams that compete with each other, and this collaborative approach also deserves some of the credit. At least three teammates contributed to the final solution for this particular protein.

Much has been said about the increasing computational horsepower available in modern PCs, but the human brain is still far superior for solving certain kinds of problems. Network a bunch of those brains together and give them a game to play, and there’s no telling how many of life’s mysteries can be unraveled.

Comments closed
    • crabjokeman
    • 8 years ago

    F@H is lame. The aliens will cure all of our diseases as soon as we find them with SETI!

    • Arclight
    • 8 years ago

    [quote<]According to the folks at Foldit, this is the first time gamers have been credited with solving a real scientific problem—no, the puzzles in Portal don't count.[/quote<] You hurt me man, you hurt me real deep.

      • sweatshopking
      • 8 years ago

      that’s what she said!

    • flip-mode
    • 8 years ago

    So is it possible that all the work being done by Folding@Home could have been completed by teenagers a decade ago?

      • Forge
      • 8 years ago

      What work? I have yet to see ANY output from F@H, aside from feel-good quotes and platitudes.

        • Meadows
        • 8 years ago

        Same, but every time I open my mouth about it, I get bad votes and attitude thrown at me.

          • RAMBO
          • 8 years ago

          Anyone who is trying to make the world better or is doing anything that is moving them forward in life will get attacked because the person attacking is going nowhere and must justify their ignorance, lack of curiosity and laziness. To all those that attack you, life is short dumba$$. If you can’t help or contribute why don’t you pull you lip over your head and swallow-talk about grumpy old men-lol

            • derFunkenstein
            • 8 years ago

            What?

            • tfp
            • 8 years ago

            Rambo was never good at talking, I wouldn’t worry about it.

            • derFunkenstein
            • 8 years ago

            “I could have killed ’em all, I could kill you. In town you’re the law, out here it’s me. Don’t push it. Don’t push it or I’ll give you a war you won’t believe. Let it go. Let it go.”

            [url<]http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0083944/quotes[/url<]

        • flip-mode
        • 8 years ago

        So far, at least. I wonder how much carbon has been pumped into the air for that pursuit. There are many people running multiple machines 24/7 “for the cause”. And I know there are many that have upgraded CPUs and GPUs just for folding.

        • mattthemuppet
        • 8 years ago

        it’s not hard, even for a sceptic such as myself, to find evidence of results:

        [url<]http://folding.stanford.edu/English/Papers[/url<] admittedly, I haven't read each and every paper to judge its relevance and impact on its particular field, but nearly 100 peer reviewed publications is not what I would call "no output"

      • Goty
      • 8 years ago

      Protein folding is more about the actual mechanics than the results. It’s a different sort of problem.

        • justme
        • 8 years ago

        this sounds right to me

      • Sam125
      • 8 years ago

      I think scientists are realizing that enormous computing power is useless without sophisticated algorithms which are still limited to how well they were developed. Using a network of human minds would far outweigh the sophistication of any algorithm

    • odizzido
    • 8 years ago

    That’s pretty cool, I’ve never heard of this site before but I will check it out.

    • Jigar
    • 8 years ago

    human brain 1, super computer 0.

      • Goty
      • 8 years ago

      It’s really more like this:

      Human brain – a handful
      Supercomputers – I lost count so long ago that it isn’t even funny anymore.

        • Jigar
        • 8 years ago

        hhmm… yeah you are right, i think i am running a lit less on my coffee today.

      • Kraft75
      • 8 years ago

      I read it as this:

      Formidable PC Gamers 1, baffled head-scratching scientists 0

      • crabjokeman
      • 8 years ago

      The way I see it: Scientists face problem that requires a lot of tedious computation and some human ingenuity. Scientists find it easier to create a “game” out of the tedium and use gamer zombies to their advantage. Problem solved. Scientists move on to next problem and zombies go back to playing Minecraft.

      • Farting Bob
      • 8 years ago

      This just evens up the score after we lost at jeopardy to the AI.

    • BiffStroganoffsky
    • 8 years ago

    I’m not using any electricity or brain cycles to figure out why Bieber-mania exists…nope, not gonna do it. Consider me ‘Un-plugged’.

      • dpaus
      • 8 years ago

      It [i<]is[/i<] an exceptionally complex problem, complicated by a disturbing lack of logic....

    • Mystic-G
    • 8 years ago

    As much as this may give hope to people for a brighter future.The inner skeptic in me knows by now that solutions to long-term viruses, diseases, or cancer will never see the light of day as too much money would be lost in the drug industry.

      • glacius555
      • 8 years ago

      You know, it is not only them who do the problem-solving 😉

      • odizzido
      • 8 years ago

      Not all countries put profit over health. Any country that has national health care would probably like to cure diseases so they can treat people better with less money.

        • Ragnar Dan
        • 8 years ago

        Hey, that was funny. Thanks!

      • UberGerbil
      • 8 years ago

      And yet successful new vaccines continue to be created, somehow.

      • Meadows
      • 8 years ago

      The moment when a politician’s close family suffers from one of those, you’ll see a swift change, trust me.

        • standingmammoth
        • 8 years ago

        Are you actually suggesting that no politician has had a close family member die from viruses, diseases or cancer? Even if you limit it to the most powerful of politicians that’s a pretty incredible claim…

      • ludi
      • 8 years ago

      Any time your conspiracy theory requires its Narrative Villains to work against their own self interest and that of their friends and loved ones, you should really slow down and start thinking through the situation a bit more carefully. Seriously: do you really think that no drug industry exec every died of cancer or watched a family member succumb? Or that someone like, say, Steve Jobs never went knocking on doors with a billion-dollar briefcase promising “Cure me, and this is yours”?

        • lilbuddhaman
        • 8 years ago

        It’s not necessarily the medicine the doesn’t exist yet that we don’t see, but rather the medicine that DOES exist, that is prohibitively expensive, despite the manufacturing process being relatively cheap.

          • justme
          • 8 years ago

          cheap to manufacture only AFTER spending bazillions of dollars done on the research

        • Mystic-G
        • 8 years ago

        Maybe you should slow down and stop assuming that I was suggesting there were hidden cures for everything. I was merely stating that there are probably hidden cures for some things and cures for certain things would never see the light of day to the masses due to the massive amount of money lost.

          • ludi
          • 8 years ago

          “Something ‘A’ exists, but nobody will ever find it because ‘B’ won’t let them,” is a rather odd form of argument and it’s hard to read something like that as [i<]not[/i<] being an appeal to conspiracy theory. Sure, if you had infinite resources, you could heal and cure anything at will. You would also be God. In a world of scarce resources, you can only allocate a finite amount of resource at anything, and there needs to be a viable return because the resources targeted at one thing, are not available to target at something else. If there is a viable cure for cancer, it will be marketed, simple as that. Someone like Jobs is not practically limited in ability to pay. But in reality, that cure doesn't exist because the human body is a stunningly complex thing to figure out, as are some of the diseases that attack it.

      • Anonymous Hamster
      • 8 years ago

      Yes, on the one hand, I agree that drug companies are much more interested in making treatments than cures, since the former are far more profitable.

      On the other hand, like glacius writes, there are more than just big corporate drug companies working on solutions, so there is hope yet.

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