Video Gamers Unlock AIDS Molecule Puzzle

'They did it in less than 10 days': scientist
By Neal Colgrass,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 18, 2011 4:44 PM CDT
Foldit players try to solve molecular structures like this one.   (

(Newser) – Video gamers have figured out a molecular puzzle that has long baffled scientists and may lead to crowd-sourced cures for AIDS and other illnesses, MSNBC reports. In a surprising step for so-called citizen science, players of the online game Foldit discovered the molecular structure of an enzyme in an AIDS-like virus found in monkeys. All it took was 12-15 dedicated gamers. "They actually did it in less than 10 days," says biochemist Firas Khatib.

Manipulating virtual structures that resemble multicolored Tinkertoys, the Foldit gamers worked tag-team to find the most efficient molecule configuration—just like Mother Nature had done. Now experts are seeing the potential of Foldit and other science-oriented video games in areas such as biofuels, drug development, and genetic engineering. But be warned, says Khatib, Foldit ain't exactly like playing Bejeweled: "Let's be honest, proteins aren't the sexiest video game out there."

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