FOLD.IT game - how gamers help fight AIDS

Many people think that computer games do not bring any benefit to society, but, on the contrary, harm. In principle, this is true, but there are exceptions to any rule. For example, the protein synthesis emulator Foldit is currently one of the few games in which you can contribute to solving the problems of treating diseases that are incurable at the moment.

It is difficult to imagine a process inside our body that would take place without the participation of proteins. At the heart of every cell is a protein, including viruses and pathogenic bacteria. The properties of a protein are influenced by its shape and bonds. It is on these parameters that we will have to act. The bottom line is that if you fold a protein into a compact form, even though its composition seems to have not changed, it will no longer be able to perform its functions. Including the proteins of viruses, they will not be able to attack our body.

The task of scientists (and in the game of users) is to fold the protein as compactly as possible. How well you do it, you will understand from the number of points you earn. The results of your game will participate in the overall online rating and will be able to help scientists in the treatment of diseases such as cancer, AIDS and many other deadly and not yet curable diseases.

The first launch of a game project called Fold.it took place in May 2008, thanks to scientists from the University of Washington. Since then, over 240, 000 players have been registered.

In addition to predicting the structure of known proteins and creating new ones that should be suitable for the given goals, the developers of Foldit offered players to help in creating algorithms for the automated execution of these tasks. Such "recipes" are created either in a special scripting language or using a graphical interface. Each player has his own "cookbook" with algorithms. Players can share "recipes" with each other, improve and combine other users' algorithms.

Each task is published on the site for a certain period, during which users compete with each other. There is also a set of constantly available puzzles designed to familiarize new users with Foldit's features. During the game, the players interactively manipulate the molecule, changing the shape of the main frame and the position of the side groups; they can also rotate α-helices around their axes, change the communication of chains in β-structures, impose weak restrictions in certain areas. The user receives information about how well he is able to fold the protein in the form of points.

Practice has shown that the collective thinking of the human mind is much more effective than the most powerful modern computers. So already in 2011, players helped to decipher the crystal structure of the monkey virus, the retroviral protease (M-PMV), which causes AIDS in monkeys. The puzzle was available for play for only three weeks, but the decryption was made already on the tenth day, and this problem baffled scientists for 15 years.

And in January 2012, Scientific American players completed the first project to change the structure of the protein that serves as a catalyst in the Diels-Alder reaction, and the new structure proposed by users was more than 18 times more active than the original, calculated by scientists to be super- computers.