Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Online Gamers Crack AIDS Enzyme Puzzle

Yahoo Games - Plugged In

Online gamers have achieved a feat beyond the realm of Second Life or Dungeons and Dragons: they have deciphered the structure of an enzyme of an AIDS-like virus that had thwarted scientists for a decade.

Photo by AFP
The exploit is published on Sunday in the journal Nature Structural & Molecular Biology, where -- exceptionally in scientific publishing -- both gamers and researchers are honoured as co-authors.
Their target was a monomeric protease enzyme, a cutting agent in the complex molecular tailoring of retroviruses, a family that includes HIV.
Figuring out the structure of proteins is vital for understanding the causes of many diseases and developing drugs to block them.
But a microscope gives only a flat image of what to the outsider looks like a plate of one-dimensional scrunched-up spaghetti. Pharmacologists, though, need a 3-D picture that "unfolds" the molecule and rotates it in order to reveal potential targets for drugs.
This is where Foldit comes in.
Developed in 2008 by the University of Washington, it is a fun-for-purpose video game in which gamers, divided into competing groups, compete to unfold chains of amino acids -- the building blocks of proteins -- using a set of online tools.
To the astonishment of the scientists, the gamers produced an accurate model of the enzyme in just three weeks.
Cracking the enzyme "provides new insights for the design of antiretroviral drugs," says the study, referring to the lifeline medication against the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).
It is believed to be the first time that gamers have resolved a long-standing scientific problem.
"We wanted to see if human intuition could succeed where automated methods had failed," Firas Khatib of the university's biochemistry lab said in a press release. "The ingenuity of game players is a formidable force that, if properly directed, can be used to solve a wide range of scientific problems."
One of Foldit's creators, Seth Cooper, explained why gamers had succeeded where computers had failed.
"People have spatial reasoning skills, something computers are not yet good at," he said.
"Games provide a framework for bringing together the strengths of computers and humans. The results in this week's paper show that gaming, science and computation can be combined to make advances that were not possible before."

DC Universe Online Going Free to Play - Just Another Nail In The Coffin?

Sony Online Entertainment announced yesterday the the still young DC Universe MMO will be going free to play starting in October. Anyone with a PC or PS3 will be download and have access to the full game with two character slots and the option to buy any expansion packs. This is good news for those looking to get into DCU, but I wanna talk about something a little bigger, and perhaps could be considered bad news.

I have nothing against an MMO going free to play, or even the micro transactions of in game items in an effort to make extra money. In some cases it's the best thing that can happen to an MMO, like in the case of Lord of the Rings online (LoTRO) it pretty much saved the game from going under. These instances are all fine and dandy but where I begin to have a problem is when an MMO appears to have had the intention to go free to play from the beginning. I look at this DCU announcement and the announcement not long ago about Star Trek Online going free to play as well, and even Champions Online before that, all of these games are still very young and were not having subscriptions problems... wel... maybe Champions.

So my fear is that these publishers are not interested in creation's am MMO that is worth playing for years and years anymore and all they are after is that 1st year of heavy subscription profits and then milk it from then on out. I look at games like World of Warcraft with their 4th major expansion coming out, and EVE Online with their regular Expansions/Major Patches every 6 months or so and I think to myself "these developers love their game" and I just can't say the same for many other MMOs. In summary, I feel the attraction of free to play MMOs have caused publishers to become less enthusiastic about their products and there by watering down the gaming experience in an effort to make more cash with less support, which could be slowly killing the genre.