Will Gamers Discover the Cure for AIDS?

Using Foldit, a collaborative online game that any old schmuck with a computer can download for free off the Internet, some video game players have solved a complicated monkey-virus puzzle that has confounded scientists for more than a decade. Are scientists stupid?

No, not really: they just need to play more World of Warcraft. Also, enzymes are too complex. The gamers' achievement has made some of America's simpleton scientists optimistic about crowdsourced cures for some of our worst diseases, MSNBC reports:

"This is one small piece of the puzzle in being able to help with AIDS," Firas Khatib, a biochemist at the University of Washington, told me. Khatib is the lead author of a research paper on the project, published today by Nature Structural & Molecular Biology.

Khatib's colleague had tried to solve the monkey-virus puzzle in question—centered on a retroviral protease of the Mason-Pfizer monkey virus, an AIDS-like monkey disease—using a computer program called Rosetta, but it didn't work. A Polish scientist came up with the idea to send it out to Foldit, and within 10 days the gamers had solved the puzzle. The big "breakthrough" in the project came from the work of a British woman and science technician going by the name "mimi."

Now the scientists want to see if Foldit users can work on other disease-related problems, develop drugs, create biofuels—basically do their work for them. Then they can sit around their bedrooms playing video games all day long, drinking Mountain Dew out of two-liter bottles and wearing nerdy black t-shirts over their scientist robes, and get smart again.

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[MSNBC, The Scientist]