You know that stereotype of the pot-smoking video game player sitting on his sofa eating Doritos and playing Gears of War without any bathroom breaks? Well, it’s time to break that stereotype. Because scientists are now making strides in advancing research to save lives by using not only video games, but also the people who play them.
For years, scientists have started to rely on using both PS3’s and PC’s to passively lend computational horsepower to protein-folding disease research. However, that wasn’t enough and the science community realized that it could have a powerful ally in the gaming community itself.
On Sunday, researchers at the University of Washington announced that through an online game called FoldIt, video gamers had deciphered a protein structure dealing with AIDS virus multiplication that had eluded scientists for decades. DECADES. According to the study, which has been published in the Nature Structural & Molecular Biology journal, FoldIt players solved the structure within a matter of just three weeks.
This breakthrough pertains to the retroviral protease M-PMV, a monkey-borne AIDS-causing virus that plays a role in how the disease multiplies. For years, scientists have studied methods to deactivate this protein, but their efforts were null due to an inability to actually crack its structure.
“”The critical role of Foldit players in the solution of the M-PMVstructure shows the power of online games to channel human intuition and three-dimensional pattern-matching skills to solve challenging scientific problems,” the study stated. “Although much attention has recently been given to the potential of crowd sourcing and game playing, this is the first instance that we are aware of in which online gamers solved a longstanding scientific problem.”
The study went on to say: “These results indicate the potential for integrating video games into the real-world scientific process: the ingenuity of game players is a formidable force that, if properly directed, can be used to solve a wide range of scientific problems.”
I repeat. We are “a formidable force.” I like that. A lot.
The FoldIt multiplayer online game itself was created by University of Washington researchers and released in 2008. After going through tutorials, the FoldIt player is asked to manipulate real-world protein structures, scoring points on how well folded their work is.
So there you have it. Us lazy Dorito-eating video gamers did something that scientists could not do. And because of it, we are well on our way to understanding AIDS better in an effort to finally eradicate it from our world. And the potential for gamers to do more to help the scientific community is obviously something that will now be recognized.
I would have to say that’s pretty darn awesome, wouldn’t you?