AlphaFold Developers Clinch Lasker Science Award

NNicholas September 21, 2023 3:47 PM

The creators of Google DeepMind's AlphaFold, an AI program that predicts the 3D shapes of proteins, have won the esteemed Lasker basic medical research award. This accolade is notable as it signifies a potential Nobel prize in the future, highlighting the crucial role of AI in modern science.

AlphaFold developers win esteemed award

The revolutionary AlphaFold program, developed by Demis Hassabis and John Jumper of Google DeepMind, has been recognized by the distinguished Lasker basic medical research award. This award spotlights the significant impact of AlphaFold in the scientific community and the transformative role of AI within the field of medicine. Notably, many Lasker laureates have subsequently received the Nobel prize, hinting at a potential first for AI research.

Revolutionizing protein folding with AI

Understanding protein folding may seem complex, but its importance is immense. Proteins, the building blocks of life, perform their functions based on the forms they take. With AlphaFold, the process of determining these structures, which traditionally took years of laborious lab work, is radically condensed to mere minutes. In a significant milestone, the program released over 200 million predicted structures last year, encompassing almost all known proteins and accelerating research in various scientific domains.

AlphaFold's unique learning approach

AlphaFold, following the success of AlphaGo, has learned to predict protein structures using their chemical composition. This was achieved by training the AI on a substantial dataset of 170,000 protein sequences and laboratory-confirmed structures. This significant breakthrough in AI learning underscores the potential of machine understanding and application in complex biological systems.

The development journey of AlphaFold was not always smooth. The program's first significant test came in 2018 when it participated in the biennial protein structure prediction competition, Casp. Although it performed adequately, it did not meet the scientists' usability expectations. Nonetheless, the research team remained undeterred, and by 2020, AlphaFold emerged victorious in the Casp competition, highlighting the tenacity of the team and the program's massive potential.

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