People playing a simple video game can match, and even surpass, the efforts of a powerful supercomputer to solve a fiendishly difficult biological problem, according to the results of an unusual face-off. The game isn't Pac-Man or Doom, but one called FoldIt that pushes people to use their intuition to predict the three-dimensional (3D) structure of a protein.

When it comes to solving protein structures, scientists usually turn to x-ray crystallography, in which x-rays shining through a protein crystal reveal the location of atoms. But the technology is expensive and slow and doesn't work for all proteins. What scientists would love is a method for accurately predicting the structure of any protein, while knowing nothing more than the sequence of its amino acids. That's no small task, considering that even a moderately sized protein can theoretically fold into more possible shapes than there are particles in the universe.

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