A group of online game players with little to no biochemistry background have figured out the structure of several proteins — including one that has long stumped scientists.

David Baker at the University of Washington in Seattle and his colleagues created a free protein-folding game called Foldit. Users play with protein fragments, competing with each other to come up with structures with the lowest energy and thus the highest score. In one example, Foldit players modified a protein model (pictured red) to arrive at a structure (yellow) that was closer to the actual determined structure (blue) than the original model.

The players also helped to solve the structure of a protein from the Mason–Pfizer monkey virus, which causes simian AIDS in monkeys. This structure had eluded researchers for many years.

Nature Struct. Mol. Biol. 10.1038/nsmb.2119 (2011)