At the start of a biennial contest to predict the structure of proteins, the expectations for Google’s artificial intelligence unit DeepMind couldn’t have been higher. Think Mike Tyson in the mid-1980s: Everyone was expecting a knockout.
The results of the contest, known as CASP, came out Monday — and DeepMind didn’t disappoint, stunning the field by essentially solving one of biology’s most enduring challenges: quickly and accurately predicting the 3D structure of a protein from its amino acid sequence. The discovery stands to accelerate drug discovery by giving scientists more precise information about how proteins function within cells, allowing them to better target those proteins to counteract the mechanisms underlying disease.
Even John Moult, a computational biologist at the University of Maryland who co-founded the contest in 1994, said DeepMind’s performance this year doesn’t leave much left to figure out.