Civilian scientists enlisted to help in search for coronavirus treatment

U.S. & World

(NBC) – University of Washington researchers are asking ‘civilian scientists’ to tweak and modify renderings of proteins in a search for treatment of the coronavirus.

A game called Foldit is all about folding proteins. But this game has real-world implications, says Research Scientist Brian Koepnik, of the University of Washington Institute for Protein Design.

It has to do with the way coronavirus, or Covid-19, makes you sick. When it’s in your body, proteins on the surface of the virus bind to proteins on your cells. Then it can infect you and replicate.

So here, players tweak a protein structure to find a way it might bind to proteins on coronavirus in grey on the bottom.

“We effectively neutralize the molecule. This could be used as an antiviral drug, something you could administer that would slow down or halt infection of coronavirus,” says Koepnik.

Foldit is about 12 years old and was designed with UW’s Center for Game Science. Players also worked on Ebola back in 2014.

Now there are hundreds of active users, most of them working on this coronavirus puzzle, putting brand new science in the hands of the people.

“I am pretty optimistic. The players, they’re good at coming up with novel solutions to problems, usually solutions we did not expect but sometimes these solutions can be particularly effective,” Koepnik said.

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