Video Gamers Solve AIDS Puzzle in Record Time

Foldit puzzle aids breakthroughGee, regular ol' scientists and medical researchers must be feeling a little bit silly right now. That's because a molecular puzzle that has baffled them for years has just been solved by video-game players. Using a collaborative online game called Foldit (promoted with the tagline "Solve Puzzles for Science"), the gamers were able to figure out the detailed molecular structure of a protein-cutting enzyme (known as retroviral proteases) from an AIDS-like virus found in rhesus monkeys. They did it in TEN DAYS! Man, have we come a long way from the days of Oregon Trail, huh?!

Better understanding of this enzyme's structure could lead to huge opportunities for the design of retroviral drugs, including AIDS drugs. Wow! The researchers involved in this discovery note that this strategy of "crowd-sourcing" game players might help with efforts to look for alien planets, decipher ancient texts, and do other scientific tasks that computers on their own are incapable of doing.

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Uh, it's a little crazy to think a kid with an unhealthy obsession with his Xbox might be better equipped than PhDs for finding the cure to some of the world's most mind-boggling questions! But then again ... it does make sense.

People who frequently play video games probably do have a stronger set of certain skills. The researchers note that people in general have a leg up on computers when it comes to spatial reasoning skills, but I'd imagine gamers are even better in that field than most. They're also probably much more adept at simple problem solving, and they're most definitely really competitive. Who else would keep pushing to the next level, trying to beat their top score or whatever? (That would also explain why I never really cared to play more than a round or two of Super Mario Brothers or Sonic the Hedgehog growing up, and I couldn't care less about Wii these days. My competitive streak is practically nonexistent.)

So, hey, if gamers are the ones who can answer some of the world’s biggest questions, why not? More power to 'em ... and more power to us all.

What do you think about this breakthrough? Are you surprised gamers trumped scientists?


Image via fold.it

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