“Foldit attempts to predict the structure of a protein by taking advantage of humans’ puzzle-solving intuitions and having people play competitively to fold the best proteins,” the company explains on its website. “Since proteins are part of so many diseases, they can also be part of the cure. Players can design brand new proteins that could help prevent or treat important diseases.”
They’ve been on a tear ever since. With four publications to their name, and a host ofpuzzles left to solve from deadly diseases to biofuels, Foldit has proven that the concept works.
Their latest solution has resolved a problem stumping scientists for a decade. Publishing in the journal Nature Structural & Molecular Biology on September 18 (the scientists and gamers are co-authors), researchers show how gamers provided the crucial insights to solve the structure of a protein-sniping enzyme critical forreproduction of the AIDS virus. With help from game-players’ strategies, researchers revealed the enzymes’ structure within three weeks and identified targets for drugs to neutralize it.