Research highlight

Crowd-sourcing protein structure using an online game

Nature Structural & Molecular Biology

September 19, 2011

Online players used the protein folding game Foldit to produce the first accurate model of the crystal structure of M-PMV retroviral protease. The findings, reported this week in Nature Structural & Molecular Biology, further shows how human three-dimensional problem-solving skills can be an asset in solving real world biological problems, and specifically provides insights for the design of anti-retroviral drugs.

The Critical Assessment of Techniques for Protein Structure Prediction (CASP) allows players to predict the native structure of proteins where the amino acid sequences are close to being experimentally determined using the competitive multiplayer online game Foldit. Players are not usually biologists and instead rely on spatial reasoning to predict three-dimensional protein structures.

In a recent challenge, one Foldit group successfully used real data to predict how the protein M-PMV PR looks. David Baker and colleagues report that the predictions by the Foldit group were accurate enough that researchers were able to use the game prediction to determine the real structure of M-PMV PR.

doi: 10.1038/nsmb.2119

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