Gamers achieve next step in AIDS research, not just World of Warcraft 0

Gamers achieve next step in AIDS research, not just World of Warcraft

Geeks, nerds, dweebs, and all around poindexters have claimed that even though they suck at sports and social interaction, they have truly been on the forefront of making the world a better place.  Though it is hard to understand how 24 hour Halo marathons or painting a car to look like an A-Wing fighter is improving mankind, geekkind can now put down medical research as a hash mark in their column.  As detailed in the scientific journal Nature Structural & Molecular Biology this past Sunday, both career researchers and online gamers are credited as co-authors of the study that has unlocked the structure of an AIDSesque virus enzyme.

Mario MD

Mario MD

For decades scientists in their search for improved AIDS/HIV medications and a possible cure have been blocked by their inability to get a 3-D look at the bits and bobs of the building blocks to retroviruses, which is what HIV and AIDS are in case you missed every ‘very special episode’ in the late 80’s/early 90’s.  Understanding the structure allows them to tailor drugs to attack the retroviruses at their weak points and possible score a fatality (imagine an amoeba with a spike on a chain, if you will).  The problem has been that microscopes and other such lab cliche devices only present a one dimensional look at our tiny enemies.

No supercomputer, no matter how many blinking lights or strange booping sounds it may have made, had been able to crack the problem.  The answer came in 2008.  That’s when University of Washington developed Foldit, a video game.  Gamers where divided up into competing groups and given the fun task of unfolding amino acid chains.  It’s probably much more fun than it sounds.  Well, after being put on a project that well educated, trained, and white lab coat wearing researchers have spent twenty plus years racking their brains over, the gamers completed an accurate, three dimensional representation of the monomeric protease enzyme in just three weeks.  That’s right, MightyGeekers.  In less than a month, gamers made that enzyme their bitch.  What does that mean?  It means that researchers and pharmacologists now have a better chance at creating more effective HIV and AIDS medications.

Why had gamers succeeded where every HAL 9000 failed?  Foldit co-creator Seth Cooper gives credit to the human ability for spatial reasoning, something that computers haven’t quite mastered yet.  This could be the first step in a new form of scientific research: Using games and gamers to best utilize the strengths of both computers and humans.