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September 20, 2011

Genius: Researchers Turn HIV Modeling Problem Into a Competitive Game; Gamers Apparently Come Up With Ballpark-Accurate Answer

Via Hot Air, at FoxNews.

In just three weeks, online gamers deciphered the structure of a retrovirus protein that has stumped scientists for over a decade, and a study out Sunday says their breakthrough opens doors for a new AIDS drug design.

The protein, called a protease, plays a critical role in how some viruses, including HIV, multiply. Intensive research has been underway to find AIDS drugs that can deactivate proteases, but scientists were hampered by their inability to crack the enzyme's structure.

Looking for a solution, researchers at the University of Washington turned to Foldit, a program created by the university a few years ago that transforms problems of science into competitive computer games, and challenged players to use their three-dimensional problem-solving skills to build accurate models of the protein.

With days, the gamers generated models good enough for the researchers to refine into an accurate portrayal of the enzyme's structure. What's more, the scientists identified parts of the molecule that are likely targets for drugs to block the enzyme.

Two obvious points. One, "The Wisdom of the Crowd" can be used to solve problems in the information age.

Two, any time you convert something that feels like work into something that feels like pleasure or play you can get a lot of stuff done, because people don't mind dedicating hours to a pursuit if it's fun.

One neat application of this is CAPTCHA, which asks human users to decode distorted words from books which are being digitized. The words aren't recognizable by OCR means, so humans are enlisted to guess at the words, automating the process of converting a screen-capped page into a digitized books.

Actually now that I see that that is free, I'm wondering if I shouldn't throw a CAPTCHA on the comments to keep out the spammers.


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posted by Ace at 03:53 PM

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