AI Solves 50-Year-Old Biology Problem of Protein Folding
Artificial intelligence group DeepMind has solved a biological problem that scientists struggled with for almost 50 years.
AlphaFold, the group's new program, can predict how proteins fold into 3D shapes, reports The Guardian. It sounds deceptively simple, but this is a complex process fundamental to understanding our biology.Demis Hassabis, DeepMind's founder and chief executive to The Guardian"It marks an exciting moment for the field.These algorithms are now becoming mature enough and powerful enough to be applicable to really challenging scientific problems."
The implications of this are dizzying - from helping researchers figure out the exact mechanisms that create diseases to helping develop new medicines, better crops and even "green enzymes" that can break down plastic pollution.
Why Is This a Big Deal?
Well because it wasn't an easy task! Proteins are chains of amino acids that take myriad shapes, for example, like a googol cubed, or 1 followed by 300 zeroes.
While scientists have discovered around 200m proteins, they only understand the structures of a few. Traditionally these shapes take years of labour and lab work to discover, and while computer scientists have sped up the process the technology offered by AI is unparalleled.