AI may have the answer to one of biology’s biggest challenges. To understand life, you must understand proteins. These molecular chains, each assembled from a menu of 20 types of chemical links called amino acids, do biology’s heavy lifting. In the guise of enzymes they catalyse the chemistry that keeps bodies running. Actin and myosin, the proteins of muscles, permit those bodies to move around. Keratin provides their skin and hair. Haemoglobin carries their oxygen. Insulin regulates their metabolism. And a protein called spike allows coronaviruses to invade human cells, thereby shutting down entire economies.
Listing a protein’s amino acids is easy. Machines to do so have existed for decades. But this is only half the battle in the quest to understand how proteins work. What a protein does, and how it does it, depends also on how it folds up after its creation, into its final, intricate shape...[+]