And They Say Playing Video Games Is Bad For You…

You pick, play FarmVille or cure AIDs?

As here is a working example of what we’ve waxed about here before as the players of an online protein-folding game named appropriately “Foldit” have outperformed the white jacketed scientists by discovering the structure of a protein involved in the Mason-Pfizer monkey virus.   As this particular virus is also a “retrovirus” much like HIV, which causes AIDS in both monkeys and apes. As developing a better understanding of its structure will aid researchers in developing improved antiretroviral drugs that can fight HIV.  However the interworkings  of this virus  has held its mystery for well  over a decade including  having eluded the best efforts of the scientific community.

Yet the  non-scientific  types of crowd sourced players bring their pattern-recognition skills to the game playing console , have provided  scientists from the University of Washington an extra helping hand.  As they have joined with groups including the “Foldit Contenders Group” and “Foldit Void Crushers Group” to use game software to model the crystal structure of the M-PMV retroviral protease (PR), a protein responsible for viral growth.  As the proteins in question consist of long chains of amino acids, which are molecules made up of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen.

The goal is to figure out the order of the amino acids which may be somewhat easy, yet only a small part of the larger story as these amino acid then “chain fold” into complex shapes that determine however the proteins function. Again while sounding simple there are an incredibly high number of degrees of freedom to this structure making it one of the hardest problems in modern science to solve.

While there are many automated program to calculate the minimization algorithms involved in protein work, they only work so well which isn’t good enough.  However the driving idea behind Foldit is that a human’s ability to recognize  patterns and solve fuzzy problems can succeed where the rote algorithms failed in the past.

So we have to ask ourselves  what will the future hold for gaming-inspired citizen scientists?  As think about it this way, it doesn’t take a huge leap of imagination to see a future of people who farmed for tokens on “Farmville” now become protein-folding gamers.  As if scientific problems can be turned into something fun and challenging, with the offer of added rewards such as trophies or the like to show off (hey its all about money & medals), we could  see the legions of gamers switch from Worlds of WarCraft, to solving real world problems which are far more rewarding…

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About Joseph Campbell

As a strong believer in the fact that "people work for people", it has been a life driver to better to understand the complexities of the various aspects which drive efficiency within this axiom, especially the concepts of leadership. Supporting this, I have been fortunate enough to having experienced this as leader on a global basis over the last decade and half. During this time it has been clear there are three core drivers being Life, Leadership and Economics.
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One Response to And They Say Playing Video Games Is Bad For You…

  1. It’s incredible how a seemingly recreational and non-serious activity like gaming can be turned into such technological advancement. But you’re right–now that I think about it, it’s isn’t that far of a leap!

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