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2021 Breakthrough of the Year: AI brings protein structures to all
In his 1972 Nobel Prize acceptance speech, American biochemist Christian Anfinsen laid out a vision: One day it would be possible, he said, to predict the 3D structure of any protein merely from its sequence of amino acid building blocks. With hundreds of thousands of proteins in the human body alone, such an advance would have vast applications, offering insights into basic biology and revealing promising new drug targets. Now, after nearly 50 years, researchers have shown that artificial intelligence (AI)-driven software can churn out accurate protein structures by the thousands—an advance that realizes Anfinsen’s dream and is Science’s 2021 Breakthrough of the Year.
Protein structures could once be determined only through painstaking lab analyses. But they can now be calculated, quickly, for tens of thousands of proteins, and for complexes of interacting proteins. “This is a sea change for structural biology,” says Gaetano Montelione, a structural biologist at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. David Baker, a University of Washington, Seattle, computational biochemist who led one of the prediction projects, adds that with the bounty of readily available structures, “All areas of computational and molecular biology will be transformed.” Read the full story…