Gamers can help cure Coronavirus!

By Sairam Hussain Miran 06 Mar, 20



The recent Coronavirus outbreak shows no sign of reduction as the official death toll rises to 3100 globally. In the middle of such a vulnerable situation, most people cannot do much except take the necessary preventive measures. However, gamers are presented with a unique opportunity.


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The University of Washington powered platform that makes this opportunity possible is called Fold.it. Fold.it, in its own words, is a revolutionary crowdsourcing computer game that enables anyone to contribute to significant scientific research. This platform has been around long before Coronovirus, and is used in attempts to gather useful data for Cancer and AIDS research. Here’s some simple science background to understand how it works.

Proteins are made up of amino acids that will determine the shape that a protein molecule will take, and these amino acids are not arranged in long chains. Instead, they are arranged in an inconsistent manner, where they fold up into themselves, taking very distinct shapes. The way proteins fold, defines how they operate and the work they perform. Accordingly, if it is a disease protein, understanding the folding structure is the key to finding a cure for the disease. For decades, it has been a challenge for scientists to figure out how any particular protein is going to fold up. 

One approach that scientists have taken towards understanding protein folding is via enabling computers to do the groundwork for them. However, it was quickly realized that computers were not entirely suitable for such a complicated task. It turns out protein folding remains one complex area where humans still outdo machines!

More specifically, humans who have developed their spatial reasoning skills to an extraordinary level are the best shot scientists have at cracking protein folding. Ring a bell? Yes, this is where gamers finally show the impact of their years of experience!

To fully utilize the developed brain of today’s gamers, Fold.it decided to turn protein folding into a video game. In the puzzle video game, players play competitively to figure out how proteins fold their shape into becoming the most stable and useful state possible. Contrary to popular belief, being handy with 3D shapes and spatial reasoning is far more critical than science knowledge to complete this puzzle to the highest level. The higher your score, the closer you are to the optimal state of the protein. 


A level of the actual game

For many reading about Fold.it for the first time here, it may seem absurd how a science-puzzle video game may be able to save actual lives. To our delight, the effectiveness of Fold.it has not been in question since 2011; when Fold.it gamers managed to unlock the structure of an AIDS-related enzyme that the scientific community had been unable to unlock for a decade! The groundbreaking paper that took humanity one giant step closer to curing AIDS, even had Fold.it gamers as a co-author to acknowledge their contribution!


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Foldit Gamers FTW


Therefore, we call out our gaming community at Gamelist to log onto Fold.it today and take a jab at this puzzle. The game works on sheer crowdsourcing techniques, and the fact that so many possibilities will be tried out and enormous data fed is the very reason why the game is so successful. Be reminded that this game has led to actual published papers! We urge all Pakistani gamers to try out this game, as it remains the only effective way we can play our part in combatting the deadly coronavirus that has plagued our world.


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Foldit Lab Report #6: Coronavirus puzzle


The game is free to play on PC and can be downloaded here: https://fold.it/portal/node/2008926