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image depicting Artificial intelligence solves one of biology's biggest mysteries

AI solves one of biology’s biggest mysteries

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Experts have announced that one of biology’s biggest mysteries has been solved using artificial intelligence (AI).

For about 50 years, scientists have tried to predict how proteins achieve their three-dimensional structure. This is not an easy problem to solve as the number of potential configurations (arrangement or shape) is vast. In fact, researchers think that it would take longer than the age of the Universe to test all potential shapes.

However, London-based AI lab, DeepMind, says that it has largely solved the problem. DeepMind is a company under Google.

It has created an artificial intelligence programme called “AlphaFold” that is able to solve this problem within days.

Why is solving one of biology’s biggest mysteries so important?

Proteins are present in all living things. They are made up of strings of amino acids and play an important role in the chemical processes essential for life.

In proteins, the strings of amino acids fold up into numerous different shapes which influence how they carry out their important functions.

Many diseases are linked to the roles of proteins. Knowing the 3D structure of a protein is important in creating drugs to fight the disease.

One example is the COVID-19 virus. Scientists have been studying how the spike protein on its surface helps the virus enter human cells. This is helping in the search for a cure or treatment.

An experiment called CASP (Critical Assessment of protein Structure Prediction) began in 1994,  to figure out ways to predict protein folding. Now, working together with DeepMind, they say they have succeeded.

 

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