Tags: firas khatib

NASA & Foldit Put Science Apps in Users’ Hands

Beyond • October 12, 2011

The internet has come a long way since first becoming publicly available in the early 1990s. It has evolved so much that it is hard to picture it getting any more advanced than it is today. Believe it or not, this globalized, super computer network is on course to get even better. Analysts in the tech community are predicting that improvements in computing power, storage and bandwidth capacity will take the digital landscape to places that once seemed unimaginable. In fact, we are already seeing how the rapid advances in internet technology are proving useful across multiple sectors... Space Apps Coming Down to Earth As the head of the United States’ space and aerospace research programs, it should come as no surprise that NASA stays at the forefront of technology. In late September, the agency introduced its International Space Apps Competition, a program that is inviting the global creative population, engineers, business professionals, everyday Joes and all, to put their development skills to good use. To be more specific, it is calling for people to create apps for desktop computers, websites and smartphones that use publicly available scientific data to study issues related to the environment on earth. Technological innovation is important to the space agencies of countries throughout the world. It is the advancement of technology that not only enables these organizations to overcome the many challenges they face, but to explore new opportunities both in space and on earth. The International Space Apps Competition is giving the citizens of the world a chance to get in on the action by utilizing their technical savvy to create apps that help address the weather’s impact on the global environment, the depletion of natural resources and other issues affecting the planet. NASA’s International Space Apps Competition is designed to drive the Open Government Partnership (OGP), an initiative that strives to get governments around the world on board with a commitment to promoting transparency, engaging their citizens and harnessing the power of new technologies. The program is scheduled to culminate in 2012 with a two-day event that sees the technological expertise of government and citizens coming together to hopefully provide solutions to some of the most pressing issues faced by the global environment. Online Gamers Come through in the Clutch Video game fanatics are often stereotyped as either kids, geeks or couch-bound losers. A new initiative showed that gamers are more useful to society than many give them credit for. Members of the Foldit community, which is built around the online game known as Foldit, utilized their skills to help solve a scientific mystery that has left HIV researchers puzzled for over a decade. For more than 10 years, a team comprised of scientists from around the world has been trying to understand the molecular structure of Mason-Pfizer Monkey Virus (M-PMV), an HIV-like virus that causes AIDS in rhesus monkeys. The enzymes in M-PMV, scientifically referred to as retroviral proteases, are one of the main triggers that enables it to spread, just as they promote the propagation of HIV, leukemia and other diseases. Scientists have long believed that figuring out the structure of these enzymes would be the key to creating drugs to cure the virus. Firas Khatib, a biochemist from the University of Washington, organized the team of gamers (with no prior scientific knowledge) who would leverage Foldit to come up with answers to the burning question. Designed to allow players to manipulate realistic molecular structures in the virtual world, Foldit helped the team formulate several possible solutions in less than 10 days, one described as being close to perfection. According to Khatib, their contribution puts scientists one step closer to stopping HIV in its tracks. Technological Change Is Good The internet and technology in general have taken us places that may have at times seemed impossible. From businesses and non-profits to government agencies and regular citizens, we all look forward to seeing where they take us in the future.


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