Gamers aren’t just playing games any more. Now we’re solving scientific problems. Online gamers have been brought together and in a surprisingly short period of time – three weeks – were able to generate an accurate model for the monomeric retroviral protease, a virus from the HIV family, which has stumped scientists for the last decade.

Limited by the traditionally two-dimensional depictions of these viruses, the University of Washington in 2008 developed Foldit and open sourced their research efforts. The culmination of which is a fun-for-purpose video game which organizes online players into competing groups, who in the case of our protease, worked together unfolding chains of amino acids to build a three-dimensional model of the virus. Armed with the structure and new insights from this collaboration, scientists can now work out drug compositions that can better attack the molecule or at the very least blocks them. Crediting humankind’s ability to spatially think as well to intuit our way through a problem, the University believes that this ingenuity could be put to use in a range of scientific problems.

This is also believed to be the first instance of online gamers resolving a long-standing scientific problem.