Citizen scientists have a chance to help fight coronavirus by playing a game about folding proteins. Its name is Foldit, it is free-to-play, and it has a puzzle dedicated to COVID-19.
How is it done?
The developers of the game released the “Coronavirus Spike Protein Binder Design.” It allows users to try and create an antiviral protein that can counter the virus’s spike protein. The puzzle’s description states: “Coronaviruses display a ‘spike’ protein on their surface, which binds tightly to a receptor protein found on the surface of human cells.
Once the coronavirus spike binds to the human receptor, the virus can infect the human cell and replicate it… If we can design a protein that binds to this coronavirus spike protein, it could be used to block the interaction with human cells and halt the infection.”
Researchers in the University of Washington created Foldit with the intention of using the tireless compulsions in the game to solve problems that would aid innovation. In the game, the player folds protein structures and creates new ones.
This helps in further understanding of protein chains. The FAQ reads: “The more we know about how certain proteins fold, the better new proteins we can design to combat the disease-related proteins and cure the diseases.”
According to the University’s Center for Game Science, the developers originally designed the game to “work on curing cancer, AIDS, and a host of diseases.”
The puzzle has two “difficulty” levels. In the easier option, players can fold an already existing coronavirus binding protein. In the harder option, they can design the protein from scratch.
The designs that are the most promising will go through testing at UW’S Institute for Protein Design. It’ll be the beginnings of the cure, if not the cure itself. The UW says that Foldit has more than 200,00 players. They are keeping hopes high for discoveries due to the sheer number of players.
[email protected] is also a facility that allows citizens to help with researching protein structures. Those with “unused computational resources” on their Mac can donate them so that researchers can generate more data.