AI Tool Promises A Medical Revolution

A new Artificial intelligence (AI) tool called AlphaFold has correctly predicted the 3D structure of over 98 percent of all human proteins. By predicting nearly the entire human proteome (the complete set of proteins expressed by an organism), and proteomes for a range of 20 additional model organisms, researchers from Google's DeepMind AI have provided more than 350,000 protein structures.

These are publically available on a database maintained by the European Molecular Biology Laboratory's European Bioinformatics Institute (EMBL-EBI), in Cambridge.  

AI has been used to predict the structures of almost every protein made by the human body. The development could help supercharge the discovery of new drugs to treat disease, alongside other applications. Proteins are essential building blocks of living organisms; every cell we have in us is packed with them.Understanding the shapes of proteins is critical for advancing medicine, but until now, only a fraction of these have been worked out.

Researchers used a program called AlphaFold to predict the structures of 350,000 proteins belonging to humans and other organisms. The instructions for making human proteins are contained in our genomes, the DNA contained in the nuclei of human cells. Protein structures can provide invaluable information, both for reasoning about biological processes and for enabling interventions such as structure-based drug development or targeted mutagenesis. After decades of effort, 17% of the total residues in human protein sequences are covered by an experimentally-determined structure.

Understanding the shapes of proteins is critical for advancing medicine, but until now, only a fraction of these have been worked out. The instructions for making human proteins are contained in our genomes, the DNA contained in the nuclei of human cells. There are around 20,000 of these proteins expressed by the human genome. Collectively, biologists refer to this full complement as the "proteome".

Proteins are made up of chains of smaller building blocks called amino acids. These chains fold in myriad different ways, forming a unique 3D shape. A protein's shape determines its function in the human body. The 350,000 protein structures predicted by AlphaFold include not only the 20,000 contained in the human proteome, but also those of so-called model organisms used in scientific research, such as E. coli, yeast, the fruit fly and the mouse.

This giant leap in capability is described by DeepMind researchers and a team from the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) in the respected science journal Nature.  

  • AlphaFold was able to make a confident prediction of the structural positions for 58% of the amino acids in the human proteome. 
  • The positions of 35.7% were predicted with a very high degree of confidence, double the number confirmed by experiments.
  • Traditional techniques to work out protein structures include X-ray crystallography, cryogenic electron microscopy (Cryo-EM) and others.

But none of these is easy to do: "It takes a huge amount of money and resources to do structures," Prof John McGeehan, a structural biologist at the University of Portsmouth, told BBC News. Therefore, the 3D shapes are often determined as part of targeted scientific investigations, but no project until now had systematically determined structures for all the proteins made by the body. In fact, just 17% of the proteome is covered by a structure confirmed experimentally."

Nature:       BBC:       Hebergementwebs:      Daily Observer:      DeepMind:

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