Gamers routinely save the world, though the goal isn't always as ambitious. Quests can be as simple as running errands, escorting a high profile figure from point A to point B, or hunting for specific ingredients. No matter how big or little the tasks, gamers get it done, and not just in the virtual world either. To wit, it took a group of gamers a mere three weeks to solve a puzzle in AIDS research that scientists have been working on for years.
Scientists have been stumped for a decade trying to solve the crystal structure of a retrovirus protein, and so the University of Washington turned to an online folding protein game called Foldit.
"We challenged players of the protein folding game Foldit to produce accurate models of the protein. Remarkably, Foldit players were able to generate models of sufficient quality for successful molecular replacement and subsequent structure determination. The refined structure provides new insights for the design of antiretroviral drugs," researchers wrote in a study published in the journal Nature Structural & Molecular Biology.
The players used their three-dimensional problem solving skills to create the structure, answering the question "if human intuition could succeed where automated methods had failed." According to Fox News, the researchers now hope that crowd-sourcing and online game playing could prove helpful in solving other scientific problems.