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DeepMind research cracks structure of almost every known protein

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An image released by the EMBL’s European Bioinformatics Institute showing the structure of a human protein that was modeled by the AlphaFold computer program.

Enlarge / An image released by the EMBL’s European Bioinformatics Institute showing the structure of a human protein that was modeled by the AlphaFold computer program. (credit: EMBL-EBI/AFP/Getty Images)

Artificial intelligence has surpassed the limits of scientific knowledge by predicting the shape of almost every known protein, a breakthrough that will significantly reduce the time required to make biological discoveries.

The research was done by London-based AI company DeepMind—owned by Google parent Alphabet—which used its AlphaFold algorithm to build the most complete and accurate database yet of the more than 200 million known proteins.

Prediction of a protein’s structure from its DNA sequence alone has been one of biology’s greatest challenges. Current experimental methods to determine the shape of a single protein take months or years in a laboratory, which is why only about 190,000, or 0.1 percent, of known protein structures have been solved.

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