Online Gamers Crack Scientific Puzzle


For the retrovirus problem, Foldit players started with scientists’ rough-draft idea of the shape of the protease from a retrovirus that causes AIDS in monkeys. During three-weeks of play, gamers generated over one million structure predictions. The solution, reached by the winning team in 10 days, was nearly perfect; it gave Baker and colleagues all the information they needed to nail down the structure almost to the last atom.

Human minds have an advantage, Khatib says, because of their intuitive ability to see the potential for a delayed payoff from moves that seem like backward steps.

“Human players can see that you may have to go down this road, not doing well for a long time, but those steps are necessary if you want to get to a more correct solution,” he says. “Even the best computers and computer algorithms aren’t very good at that.”

The scientists offered co-authorship to players who supplied the winning answers but all declined, asking only for recognition for their teams: Foldit Contenders Group and Foldit Void Crushers Group.

“It is a team thing. Everybody contributes,” said a player from the Contenders Group, who asked to be identified only by her Foldit user name, “mimi.”

Baker and colleagues are posing even more difficult challenges to gamers. Among them: identifying the structures of compounds that could serve important medical needs, such as inhibiting flu viruses.

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Posted by on Nov 1st, 2011 and filed under Literature & Electronic. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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