Imagine employing a legion of computer gaming fanatics to channel their obsession into finding solutions to some of the thorniest problems in protein chemistry. That's what University of Washington biochemist David Baker--who runs [email protected] a small group of colleagues did in creating Foldit, which lures gamers to see if they can improve the 3-D structures of proteins.
In trials, the best gamers were able to come up with the correct solutions faster than computers. Even without any scientific training, they swiftly racked up points by improving the chemical stability of a slate of proteins. The next step is to hand out problems with no known solution, and see if the gamers can help advance research into new vaccines and enzymes.
Proteins are the basic building block of life and only work when their long chains of molecules are folded properly. That folding process remains a central focus in biotechnology and the gamers will have a chance to design a protein that can, say, block a virus. "Grand Theft Auto" may never be able to compete with that.
- read the article in the Economist
ALSO: Researchers in California report development of a new kind of genetically modified yeast cell that produces complex proteins up to 300 times more than possible in the past. These "super yeasts" could help boost production and lower prices for a new generation of protein-based drugs that show promise for fighting diabetes, obesity, and other diseases, the researchers suggest. Release