The Check-Up: Video Gamers Crack HIV Mystery

Maybe this is what happens when you finally beat Super Mario Bros. (I wouldn't know.)

The time has come to take back every nerd joke you’ve ever made about video game fiends: Researchers at the University of Washington are reporting that online gamers playing a game called Fold-It seem to have solved a mystery that has puzzled scientists for 10 years—and it may prove useful in finding a cure for HIV.

After just three weeks of play time, gamers were able to decode the molecular structure of a viral enzyme that belongs to the same family as HIV. Their work was then translated to 3D model of the enzyme that can be rotated and manipulated, allowing researchers to better understand how it works—and, hopefully, pinpoint targets for potential drug therapies. Pretty neat, right?

A word about Fold-It:

Fold-it was developed in 2008 by computer scientists at the University of Washington in collaboration with the Baker Laboratory to team online gamers to unfold chains of amino acids, the building blocks of proteins.

Players come from all walks of life. The game taps into their 3-D spatial abilities to rotate chains of amino acids in cyberspace. New players start at the basic level, “One Small Clash,” proceed to “Swing it Around” and step ahead until reaching “Rubber Band Reversal”, according to UW.

Puzzling together the shape and misshape of proteins contributes to research on causes of and cures for cancer, Alzheimer’s, immune deficiencies and a host of other disorders, as well as to environmental work on bio fuels.

You can read more about the research over here.