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Online Gamers Help Scientists Make Progress On Understanding AIDS

Online gamers help scientists make progress on understanding AIDS, with the help of the game Foldit created by the University of Washington.

Online gamers help scientists make progress on understanding AIDS, with the help of the game Foldit created by the University of Washington.

An outcome which has surprised many has seen online game players, or gamers, have success where scientists have previously failed, and it has opened the door to many other possibilities.

Players used a game called Foldit which was developed by researchers at the University of Washington, and with this game the players were able to collaborate and put together a viable structure for a protein cutting enzyme that is crucial to the development of AIDS in its early stages, using different molecular building blocks.

The gamers came up with a model that worked in about two weeks, something which scientists had not been able to do, and using this the scientists were able to make adjustments and can now move on and look at ways to deal with this enzyme to see how they can block it to stop the advancement of AIDS.

Carter Kimsey is the program director in the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Division of Biological Infrastructure, which funded the research, and said that “Online gamers have solved a longstanding scientific problem, perhaps leading the way to new anti-viral drugs.”

None of the players had a strong background in science, which makes the success even more amazing, and researchers will now be looking into other ways that online gamers can help scientists with other projects.

Seth Cooper is a computer scientist at UW, and is a co-creator of the program Foldit as well as its lead designer and developer. He is also a coauthor of the paper, and he had this to say about involving the players. “People have spatial reasoning, something computers are not yet good at.
Games provide a framework for bringing together the strengths of computers and humans. These results show that gaming, science and computation can be combined to make advances that were not possible before,” Cooper said.

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Eric is an unashamed techno-geek (with an odd love of the outdoors) and one of the few people who can start a conversation in a roomful of similarly inclined techies and end up being the focal point for a crowd ... he also has the benefit of being able to speak and write in ways that are understandable to normal humans.

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