You just have to love it: harnessing all the creative energy that otherwise goes to entropic waste in obsessively playing computer games, for good.
And in this case, a good structure for the monomeric form of a retroviral protease, that was proving next to impossible to solve by any other means.
An article in Nature Structural & Molecular Biology from the 18th of September has a very interesting author list: it consists not only of David Baker and other actual scientists from a variety of respectable institutions, but also the “Foldit Contenders Group” and the “Foldit Void Crushers Group“, who are acknowledged as follows:
“…the F.C.G. and F.V.C.G. contributed through their gameplay, which generated the results for this manuscript”
The paper in question is entitled “Crystal structure of a monomeric retroviral protease solved by protein folding game players“, and I will let its summary tell the story.
Following the failure of a wide range of attempts to solve the crystal structure of M-PMV [Mason-Pfizer monkey virus] retroviral protease by molecular replacement, 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.
I note Foldit now has two Nature papers under its belt – not bad for a bunch of gamers who, in the words of the NSMB paper,
“…have little or no background in biochemistry [and] were able to solve protein structure refinement problems in which backbone rearrangement was necessary to correctly bury hydrophobic residues…”
From the Foldit site:
“…a protein causing AIDS in rhesus monkeys that hadn’t been solved for 15 years was resolved by Foldit players and confirmed by x-ray crystallography.
…The crystal structure will be released to the Protein Data Bank soon:
We are so proud of everything that you Foldit players have accomplished already, and we hope that this article will show the world the power of citizen science! This is the first instance we are aware of in which online gamers solved a longstanding scientific problem and we want to thank you all for your amazing work on this and everything else.”
Power to the gaming fingers, guys!