Gamers on the scientific puzzle website "Foldit" have unlocked the secrets of the monomeric protease enzyme, one of the agents that helps create retroviruses like HIV.
"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 website announced triumphantly over the weekend.
This is the second time Foldit players have helped solve a scientific mystery, and the website's organizers at the University of Washington said they're working on two more papers based on Foldit discoveries.
The findings on the AIDS retrovirus are published in the journal Nature.
Foldit puts players into teams, and they compete to "unfold" proteins. Proteins are long chains of amino acids that fold up to make a compact blob, keeping some amino acids near the center of the blob, and others outside. Every kind of protein folds up into the same shape every time.
Knowing the structure of a protein is key to understanding how it works and to targeting it with drugs.
Unfolding the protein connected to AIDS took the gamers just three weeks. It's been confounding scientists for 10 years.