““No object, no event, no outcome or life circumstance can deliver real happiness to us. We have to make our own happiness—by working hard at activities that provide their own reward.” ― Jane McGonigal, Reality Is Broken

A team of online gamers has decoded the structure of a particular protein of a retrovirus, similar to HIV/AIDS, in three weeks using a video game as their platform toward discovery.  Scientists have been trying for ten years.

CBS News reported that University of Washington biochemistry professor David Baker’s “lab developed the game, called Foldit, about three years ago, believing that they could tap into the brain power that puzzle-loving humans pour into computer games….Foldit players use their intuition and 3-D problem-solving skills to figure out likely protein structures. Teams earn points by finding the most chemically stable shapes.”

Kevin Cunningham, author of Morgan Reynolds’s Diseases in History: HIV/AIDS, wrote about the structure of a HIV molecule, “A particle of HIV resembles a sphere studded with plunger-shaped proteins. Inside the particle, a cylindrical core holds two strands of ribonucleic acid, or RNA, coded with the virus’s nine genes. Copies of other proteins important to the virus also float around the core.”

The protein the Foldit players decoded is one that retroviruses use to multiply, called a protease. Cunningham explained, ” When buds of HIV began to break out of an infected cell, an enzyme known as the protease splits the virus’s proteins into various parts. This process is necessary for HIV to mature into an active agent and move on to infect new cells.” The knowledge of how this protein is structured may lead to the development of better AIDS drugs.

“One of the most terrifying aspects of the early AIDS epidemic was the fact that nothing worked against the disease,” Cunningham wrote. Now, that fact has driven scientists and civilians alike to search for answers to the unknowns of this disease.

Adrianne Loggins
Associate Editor

For more information about HIV/AIDS, see Cunningham’s Diseases in History: HIV/AIDS, a Morgan Reynolds title. (ISBN 9781599351049)

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Published in: on September 22, 2011 at 3:08 pm  Leave a Comment  
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