Google unveils AI to predict behavior of human molecules

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Artificial intelligence is empowering machines to create videos, write computer code and even communicate.

It is also accelerating efforts to understand the human body and fight disease.

On Wednesday, Google DeepMind, the tech giant's main artificial intelligence lab, and a sister company, Isomorphic Labs, unveiled a more powerful version of AlphaFold, an artificial intelligence technology that helps scientists understand microscopic mechanisms. Helps understand the behavior of cells that make them move. human body.

An early version of Alphafold, released in 2020, solved a puzzle that had puzzled scientists for more than 50 years. This was called the “Protein Folding Problem”.

Proteins are microscopic molecules that drive the behavior of all living organisms. These molecules begin as strings of chemical compounds before twisting and folding into three-dimensional shapes that define how they interact with other microscopic mechanisms in the body.

Biologists have spent years or even decades trying to identify the shape of individual proteins. Then Alphafold came along. When a scientist fed the technology a string of amino acids that make up a protein, it could predict the three-dimensional shape in minutes.

When DeepMind publicly released Alphafold a year later, biologists began using it to accelerate drug discovery. Researchers at the University of California, San Francisco used the technology as they worked to understand the coronavirus and prepare for similar pandemics. Others used it when they were struggling to treat malaria and Parkinson's disease.

This type of technology is expected to significantly streamline the creation of new drugs and vaccines.

“This tells us a lot about how the cell's machinery interacts,” said Google DeepMind researcher John Jumper. “It tells us how it should work and what happens when we get sick.”

A new version of AlphaFold — AlphaFold3 — extends the technology beyond protein folding. In addition to predicting protein conformations, it can predict the behavior of other microscopic biological mechanisms, including DNA, where the body stores genetic information, and RNA, which transfers information from DNA into proteins. transfers.

An organism is a dynamic system. You need to understand the interactions between different molecules and structures,” said Damis Hassabis, chief executive of Google DeepMind and founder of Isomorphic Labs, which Google also owns. “This is a step in that direction.”

The company offers a website where scientists can use AlphaFold3. Other labs, notably one at the University of Washington, offer similar technology. In a paper published Tuesday in the scientific journal Nature, Dr. Jumper and his fellow researchers show that it achieves a level of accuracy far beyond the state of the art.

The technology “can save months of experimental work and enable research that was previously impossible,” said Denise Covey, co-founder and chief executive of Tamarind Bio, a startup that aims to accelerate drug discovery. Creates technology. “It represents tremendous promise.”

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