Of the many things that annoy me about Creationists, one Im going to focus on today is their child-like understanding of biochemistry and what actually goes on inside of a cell.
They put out these pretty animations (well, they put out ‘animations’ copied from pretty animations) and everything is so cutesy and perfect and multicolored and smooth…
Yeah, stuff dont look like that in real life.
And those ‘artistic renditions’ are just that. Artistic renditions. We dont stare into our microscopes and see this stuff happening– its too friggen small. So we go through all of these elaborate contortions to ‘see’ what is going on at that level. Its really goddamn hard. And sometimes we only have a general idea of what things ‘look like’ after we do so, in certain circumstances, maybe.
For instance– the protein I study, HIV-1 envelope— yeah, I mean, we kinda know what it looks like, sort of. Maybe. Why do we care? Because some anti-HIV antibodies stick to Env and prevent the virus from infecting cells. Antibodies see structures. It would be real nice to know what exactly was going on with individual antibodies– how they were doing it, so maybe we could figure out what to put into a vaccine so everyone makes those kinds of antibodies.
Another example: HIV-1 integrase (the enzyme that puts the retroviral cDNA into the host cells genomic DNA)– It would be really nice if we knew what integrase looked like, and we knew how our integrase-inhibiting drugs worked so we could design other drugs (either new ones or second/third generation drugs that worked better). But we dont know what it looks like. We kinda sorta have an idea.
Well, just to reemphasize the connection between biology and computer science— there is an online game where players and teams work together to help solve protein structures:
They just helped figure out (kinda, sorta) the HIV-1 protease structure, and several other proteins:
Foldit is a multiplayer online game that enlists players worldwide to solve difficult protein-structure prediction problems. Foldit players leverage human three-dimensional problem-solving skills to interact with protein structures using direct manipulation tools and algorithms from the Rosetta structure prediction methodology. Players collaborate with teammates while competing with other players to obtain the highest-scoring (lowest-energy) models. In proof-of-concept tests, Foldit players–most of whom have little or no background in biochemistry–were able to solve protein structure refinement problems in which backbone rearrangement was necessary to correctly bury hydrophobic residues. Here we report Foldit player successes in real-world modeling problems with more complex deviations from native structures, leading to the solution of a long-standing protein crystal structure problem.
From one of the figures for the M-PMV protease:
Starting from a quite inaccurate NMR model (red), Foldit player spvincent generated a model (yellow) considerably more similar to the later determined crystal structure (blue) in the β-strand region. (c) Starting from spvincent’s model, Foldit player grabhorn generated a model (magenta) considerably closer to the crystal structure with notable improvement of side-chain conformations in the hydrophobic core. (d) Foldit player mimi made additional improvements (in the loop region at the top left) and generated a model (green) of sufficient accuracy to provide an unambiguous molecular replacement solution which allowed rapid determination of the ultimate crystal structure (blue).
HA! Thats fantastic! And apparently they did it in just 16 days of game play (not 16 days, literally, 16 days worth of game play)! HAHAHA! That is so sweet!
My only complaint is that, once again, scientists determined the structure of a non-HIV retroviral protein, and are plugging it as ‘we figured out the structure of an HIV-1 protein!’. What they are doing is using the M-PMV protease as a model for HIV-1 protease. They didnt do this with HIV-1 protease.
But still, HA!
The critical role of Foldit players in the solution of the M-PMV PR structure shows the power of online games to channel human intuition and three-dimensional pattern-matching skills to solve challenging scientific problems. Although much attention has recently been given to the potential of crowdsourcing and game playing, this is the first instance that we are aware of in which online gamers solved a longstanding scientific problem. These results indicate the potential for integrating video games into the real-world scientific process: the ingenuity of game players is a formidable force that, if properly directed, can be used to solve a wide range of scientific problems.