THE REGISTER has a positive report on an aspect of the effort to develop an effective HIV vaccine. According to Anna Leach's article, "Online gamers strike major blow in battle against AIDS", non-science types have been of great assistance in the development of proteonomic science, the science of protein chemistry, which is the next great medical revolution. If proteonomics were compared to the history of flight, currently, we are at WW1-era level of competence.
Why should you care? Well, besides the warm, fuzzy idea of an HIV vaccine, those of you under thirty will live long enough to see proteonomics really take hold as therapy, with the benefit of treatment without the ghastly side-effects of pill-medicine. Needless to say, Big Pharma are concerned — especially when a bunch of gamers can provide the key to solving sumbitch-difficult analysis.
A bunch of gamers have untangled the structure of a key protein in the virus that causes AIDS, a mystery that has left scientists stumped for decades.
It took just three weeks for players of online game Foldit to predict an accurate model for the protein – a type of enzyme called a retroviral protease that has a critical role in how the HI virus grows and spreads.
The game Foldit was specially designed to help work out the structure of proteins. It combines computer intelligence with human spatial abilities by asking players to tweak and tug 3D models, a task that computers find hard to do.
The gamers – most of whom have no background in biochemistry – generated models good enough for the researchers to refine and, within a few days, determine the enzyme's structure. In the research published yesterday in Nature Structural & Molecular Biology, lead authors biochemists Firas Khatib and Frank DiMaio gave gamers equal billing with the rest of their biochemist co-authors.
Maybe there's an alternative to Angry Birds?