Thanks to online gamers, scientists are now one step closer to curing the acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). This syndrome is known to prevent the human immune system from functioning properly, thereby rendering a human with AIDS highly susceptible to infections. AIDS kills over 2 million people annually and afflicts over 30 million people worldwide.
For ten years, an important AIDS-related enzyme, a retroviral protease, had perplexed scientists. They could not successfully learn how the protein functioned because they were unable to model it. The challenge of finding the enzyme's structure was handed over to the website Foldit (http://fold.it/). Foldit is a website that allows online gamers to earn points by making folds in virtual amino acids to make virtual proteins. The more folds one makes, the more points one gets. Eventually, when the virtual object is "perfectly" folded, it becomes a very good representation of the protein's real-life structure. In an impressive three weeks’ time, the retroviral protease was modeled.
Finally, the discovery of the protease's structure allows for the development and production of new antiretroviral drugs to help treat AIDS. It also shows that video games can be used to significantly aid in scientific endeavors and possibly save lives in the process.
The article may be found on TIME Techland at http://www.cs.washington.edu/homes/zoran/NSMBfoldit-2011.pdf.