DeepMind has predicted the shape of every protein known to science. How excited should we be?
It doesn’t have much photogenic appeal or the glamour of seeing back in time, but a new development in computational biochemistry has been hailed as a discovery as important as the images of distant galaxies recently seen through the James Webb Space Telescope. Researchers at DeepMind—the AI company owned by Google’s parent company Alphabet, which developed the algorithm that can beat the best human experts at the strategic board game Go—have used an AI system they call AlphaFold to predict the shape of every protein molecule known to biological research: more than 200m of them, found in all manner of animals, plants, bacteria and other organisms.
Proteins are the molecules at the heart of life. Encoded in the DNA of every organism’s genome, they orchestrate the biochemical reactions that enable life to exist at all. AlphaFold’s predictions of their molecular structure have already been shown to be very reliable, thanks…
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