Scientists at the University of Washington have been trying to decipher the complex structure of an enzyme that "exhibits behavior similar to that of an enzyme key in the development of AIDS from an HIV infection" for the last decade. They believed that it likely played a critical role in finding a cure for the disease. But gamers playing spatial game Foldit have managed to collectively determine the enzyme’s structure in a mere ten days.
Scientist were baffled by the structure of the M-PMV retroviral protein, an enzyme that plays a key role in the development of a virus similar to HIV, because each enzyme has millions of possible combinations in which it can fold its atomic bonds. Determining the exact structure was a very laborious endeavor even for high-end computers with large processing power.
Scientist decided to take a different approach to solve their problem; they sent a 3D model of the M-PMV to the online game Foldit, where gamers folded and turned it into a myriad of combinations. Within ten days gamers figured out the shape that needed the lowest energy to maintain in a little over a week. With this information scientists have a better understanding how the enzyme works, and how to attack it in the future.
"This was really kind of a last-ditch effort. Can the Foldit players really solve it?" Firas Khatib, a biochemist at the University of Washington and the lead author on the recently published research paper told MSNBC. "They actually did it in less than 10 days."
ZME Science has a lot more on the story here. It's worth checking out.
Source: SME Science