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Gamers Help Solve Retrovirus Riddle

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By: Stephen Crane (Photo: flickr user Marco Bellucci)

It's sort of amazing what advances can be made when the ingenuity of gamers is put to good use. Back in 2008 developers at the University of Washington released a small puzzle game called Foldit. Foldit was designed to allow gamers to solve puzzles that in turn would help the scientists come up with refined models for how proteins are folded. Gamers were awarded a score based off how efficiently the proteins were folded in the game and how realistically they were folded.

Recently the researchers challenged the Foldit players to build accurate models of a protein chain called M-PMV PR. In just three weeks gamers had produced an accurate model of a monomeric protease enzyme. This type of enzyme is the category HIV fits into. The study notes that this hopefully will allow for a deeper understanding of the disease and how to properly medicate it. To give insight into how tremendous this accomplishment is, the model of this protein has been researched for 15 years, and scientists were not able to come up with accurate models.

What could this mean for the future? Well it's not hard to imagine other organizations hopping on the bandwagon to employ gamers to compete in spatial reasoning puzzles. Apparently humans, and almost especially gamers who essentially sove puzzles as a competitive hobby, are much better at spacial reasoning than computer models. Players who have never studied biochemistry could use the rules placed inside such modeling games to solve puzzles and advance scientific study beyond what current computers and raw processing power could allow.

Ultimately, it's a perfect example of how gamers can actually be a use to society and how raw computing is still not quite a match for human reasoning. The study also notes, "The critical role of Foldit players in the solution of the M-PMV PR structure shows the power of online games to channel human intuition and three-dimensional pattern-matching skills to solve challenging scientific problems… this is the first instance that we are of aware of in which online gamers solved a longstanding scientific problem." as well as saying that "the ingenuity of game players is a formidable force that, if properly directed, can be used to solve a wide range of scientific problems."

In other words, dance puppets, dance! Dance for science, hahaha!

You can read more about the study and Foldit here.

About Stephen Crane

Stephen was hooked by the NES at a very young age and never looked back. He games on a daily basis and is currently trying to climb his way up the ranked ladder on League of Legends! Outside of the video game world he actually likes running and owns a rapidly growing collection of toed shoes. Stephen Crane is the owner of Armed Gamer.

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