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Uploaded:2012-01-20
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Hank tells us how some gamers are outperforming sophisticated computer programs to help solve the puzzle of protein folding and to assist scientists in finding better treatments for HIV/AIDS, cancer, and Alzheimer's.

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Play Foldit! http://fold.it/portal/
Read more about the Foldit project:
Foldit Gamers Solve AIDS Puzzle That Baffled Scientists for a Decade - http://techland.time.com/2011/09/19/foldit-gamers-solve-aids-puzzle-that-baffled-scientists-for-decade/
Foldit Gamers Solve Riddle of HIV Enzyme within 3 weeks - https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/foldit-gamers-solve-riddle/
Hank Green: Gather 'round everybody, 'cause I've got some excellent news: you do not have to be a scientist to be better at science than a computer whose job it is to do science. [SciShow intro] You — YES YOU — are better at recognizing spatial relationships than computer programs whose job it is to recognize spatial relationships. Congratulations! And, uh, you know who is even better than normal people at this stuff? Video gamers. Okay, get out your phone real quick. I'm going to dictate a text message to your mom: Dear Mom, Video games are too contributing to the well being of society. Ptttthhhhhphthhhhh. You were wrong. Your adoring child, and then you can put your name. Because gamers are actually using their mad Super Mario Brothers Wii skills to recognize patterns in nature and to crack the codes of microscopic matter. Case in point: There's this organization called Foldit that puts gamers to work figuring out how proteins fold up into their most stable and most useful states. So you've probably heard of proteins, but usually in a dietary context. It's just, like, one of those things we eat, in the form of soy, or cow, depending on your preference. But proteins are basically the stuff that makes us work. Proteins do tons of different jobs. They will, for example, help me digest, uh, this hot pocket, also the proteins -- they'll digest the proteins in this hot pocket. It's just meta. You might be noticing that I -- we built in lunch to my script. So some proteins help break down this hot pocket that I'm eating, into useful energy, some of them make up my fingernails, and some of them help make the butts of fireflies glow. But proteins are actually really extremely complicated structures: they’re made up of these long chains of amino acids, and for the most part, it's those amino acid that define what their shape is going to be. But proteins don't exist as long chains, as soon as they're formed, they fold up into themselves, into mysterious shapes. They fold up for stability, but the way that they fold defines how they operate and what they do. And it's really tough to figure out which way a protein is gonna fold up, and so we spend a lot money and time trying to figure this out. One, by having computers do it, two, by actually trying to look at the protein while it's actually functioning to see if we can actually see it's shape, which turns out it's very hard to do. Because understanding how a protein folds up is the key to understanding out how that protein works. And, if it's a disease protein, it's a key to understanding how to stop that protein. So scientists have been developing computer programs for years that try and figure out how proteins fold up in their most stable states. But, it turns out, computers are just bad at that kind of stuff, and people are really good at it, especially people who have developed their spatial reasoning skills through hours and hours of video game playing. And so the organization Foldit figured out the best solution to this problem was to turn protein folding into a video game. Foldit is specifically looking at the proteins in disease-causing organisms, like viruses and bacterium, because in order to stop a protein, you have to know how it works, and you have to have it's structure before you can know how it works. In the video game, gamers play competitively to see who can fold the protein into the most stable state. And they're kicking ass at it. So, for instance, there's this AIDS-related enzyme that scientists had been trying to figure out the structure of for about a decade. When all the normal computational methods for unlocking the structure of the enzyme failed, they gave it to Foldit gamers to figure out. And, it took them about three weeks to figure it out. Scientists have since been able to completely determine the structure of the protein. And they now think they even understand enough about it to actually start developing drugs to turn it off. In the meantime, the paper that was published describing these findings listed the scientists and the gamers as co-authors. And that's pretty frickin' cool. Humanity, for all of my hours and hours of video game playing, I say to you, you're welcome! If you want to download Foldit and try your hand at helping make the world better through video game playing, there's a link in the description. There's also links to articles about this wonderful advance and the use of video games to make the world a better place. If you have suggestions for stuff we should talk about, or questions, you can see us on Facebook and Twitter. Facebook and Twitter, or Twitter and Facebook? I don't know, but they're over there. And you can find us-- and you can also always find us in the comments of YouTube videos, where we will be answering questions and seeing how you're doing.