Each of us can help find a cure for COVID-19: for this you need to play a game
Everyone can take an active part in saving the planet from the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition, without even leaving your home, which is especially convenient in quarantine. Writes about this with the BBC.
You don't need to be a chemist or a doctor to do this - you can have no education at all. Moreover, you don't even have to be an adult.
To help scientists in the search for effective drugs for coronavirus, it is enough to have a computer and some free time. Even constant access to the Internet is not required - you can play offline.
All right, play. Scientific research can be carried out by solving spatial problems, most of which even a high school student can easily cope with. However, all this hides serious science.
The key to the virus
Game called Fold.it developed at the Center for Game Science in Seattle (Washington) as a joint project of five leading American universities, the main of which is the Institute of Protein Design at the University of Washington.
At first, the platform was created to fight other diseases - primarily HIV and various types of cancer. But now she is entirely dedicated to finding a cure for COVID-19.
At first glance, the game looks a bit like a virtual 3D construction set, except with somewhat unusual shapes. Some look like tree branches, others like spirally twisted pasta or corn sticks.
This designer looks like someone was assembling it by connecting parts in a long chain. But somehow he gathered it wrong, as if in a hurry, and also outlined the places where you can do better.
This is the player's task - to improve the design by rotating the fragments relative to each other in order to achieve the optimal shape.
In fact, a constructor is a protein molecule. Only the protein is not real - a chain generated by a computer from a standard set of amino acids using a random number method.
In general, there are only 20 amino acids that make up proteins - it would seem that not so many. But just as an infinite number of texts were created from the letters of the alphabet, so from two dozen amino acids, it is theoretically possible to assemble an infinite number of proteins, stringing them in any order. There are a lot of options.
Each link has its own set of chemical properties, they all interact, and thanks to this, a long chain is folded into a ball. But not arbitrarily, but always the same.
The architecture of each protein is unique and inimitable. And it is she who determines its properties, since it allows it to adhere to a receptor that fits in shape.
Simply put, proteins are a set of keys, each of which opens its own lock. For example, insulin opens the cell for glucose to enter.
What does coronavirus have to do with it
The SARS-CoV-2 virus is a dangerous adventurer who actually found the key to our cells.
Like other coronaviruses, it is covered with a protective shell dotted with spiky processes. And at the end of each thorn is a protein molecule that serves as a master key for it.
The fact is that on the surface of our cells there is an ACE2 receptor, designed for a protein very similar in shape. Therefore, when a virus enters the “lock” with a thorn, the cell membrane takes it for its own and lets it inside.
On the subject: Research: coronavirus mutated into dozens of different strains
To prevent infection or stop the development of the disease, it is necessary to find a protein that would bind the virus hands - that is, block the spiky processes, preventing it from entering the cell. All that is needed for this is to choose a molecule of the right shape.
It doesn’t sound too complicated, but in fact it’s not an easy task even for supercomputers. It is almost impossible to accurately predict how a sequence of hundreds and thousands of amino acids will collapse, where each link affects the others.
And here ordinary people come to the rescue, players in Fold.it. Having fun with the virtual 3D designer, they sort through millions of possible combinations.
Since amino acids in all known proteins are packed in space as compactly as possible, the number of points scored depends on how tight the hand-made ball is.
The player himself may not know anything about proteins at all - it is enough just to explain to him in general terms some patterns. For example, that the orange fragments are likely to be hidden in the center of the ball, and the green ones will be located closer to the surface.
It has been experimentally proven: our brain solves spatial problems no worse, and often even better than artificial intelligence - thanks to intuition and accumulated experience. Moreover, experienced gamers make more accurate predictions and cope with chain laying better than specialized scientists.
In the meantime, the game continues, the first hundred of the most successful options created in it are already being tested at the University of Washington. Perhaps one of them will help protect our cells from the impostor virus.
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