Artificial Intelligence: AI Solves 50-Year-Old Biology Mystery; Medical Breakthroughs Could Follow

The seemingly unsolvable “protein folding problem” has been cracked by AI.

Google-owned (NASDAQ: GOOGL) DeepMind, a London-based AI lab, announced that its AlphaFold program had solved the 50-year-old protein folding issue and is capable of predicting the shape of many proteins. (SciTechDaily)

Our health and well-being, as well as diseases such as cancer, dementia, and even infectious diseases such as COVID-19, are related to thousands of different proteins inside the cells of our bodies. The functions of these proteins intimately intertwine with their three-dimensional shapes.

It is necessary to ‘unfold’ these proteins to understand how these proteins work. And that has so far not been possible despite scientific efforts stretching back five decades.

DeepMind’s breakthrough

AI lab DeepMind’s breakthrough AlphaFold program is now capable of predicting the shape of many proteins. It does so, highly accurately, in a matter of days.

DeepMind worked on the AI project with the 14th Community Wide Experiment on the Critical Assessment of Techniques for Protein Structure Prediction (CASP14), a group of scientists who have been investigating the problem since 1994.

CASP14 is organized by Dr. John Moult (chair), University of Maryland, USA.

“Proteins are extremely complicated molecules, and their precise three-dimensional structure is key to the many roles they perform, for example, the insulin that regulates sugar levels in our blood and the antibodies that help us fight infections,” says Dr. Moult. “Even tiny rearrangements of these vital molecules can have catastrophic effects on our health, so one of the most efficient ways to understand the disease and find new treatments is to study the proteins involved.”

DeepMind’s AlphaFold could determine the shape of about two-thirds of the proteins with lab-like accuracy.

Professor Dame Janet Thornton, Director Emeritus of EMBL’s European Bioinformatics Institute (EMBL-EBI), said: “One of biology’s biggest mysteries is how proteins fold to create exquisitely unique three-dimensional structures. Every living thing — from the smallest bacteria to plants, animals, and humans — is defined and powered by the proteins that help it function at the molecular level.”

“So far, this mystery remained unsolved and determining a single protein structure often required years of experimental effort. It’s tremendous to see the triumph of human curiosity, endeavor, and intelligence in solving this problem. A better understanding of protein structures and the ability to predict them using a computer means a better understanding of life, evolution and, of course, human health and disease.”

[Professor Thornton is not affiliated with DeepMind or CASP.]

The scientific breakthrough could lead to faster discovery of drugs to cure diseases afflicting mankind.

Related Story:   AI Detects COVID From Cellphone Recorded Coughs

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