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Fold it!

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If you have heard of ‘StumbleUpon’ on the internet you will know how painfully addictive it can be as it generates websites for you that are tailored to your interests. Recently, I stumbled upon an intriguing game on the internet that has been around for some time but is now evolving into something that could potentially change science.The name of the website is ‘Foldit’ and it is simply a game of protein folding. There are initial tutorials that teach you the basics of protein structure, side chains and bonding. You are given a protein that has negative interactions (shown in red) and the aim of the game is to arrange the protein in such a way that it is in the most efficiently folded position and removing any interference. The better you fold it, the more points you get. So it seems this may be a good way for students to visually understand protein structures as they are given the freedom to rotate and enlarge a 3D image but actually, there’s much more to the game than meets the eye.‘Foldit’ was created at Washington University, USA, and the idea was to use it to create and discover shapes of proteins using real-life examples. It was released to the public as a competitive game encouraging gamers to best each other by getting the highest score (having the most optimally folded protein). The experiment proved to be a success as it seems that humans are more efficient at solving these problems than a computer. Just this month, a team of ‘Foldit’ fanatics were competing and collaborating on a protein structure that amazingly matched some X-ray crystallography data that proved that they had discovered the shape of a protease which causes AIDS in monkeys. It was a problem that scientists had not been able to solve in ten years. Could it have just been luck or could this be a way for budding scientists to try their hand at protein discovery from home? It is an exciting experimental game and its potential is still unknown. It’s free to download so why not have a go!

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