The researchers behind the AlphaFold artificial-intelligence (AI) system have won one of this year’s US$3-million Breakthrough prizes — the most lucrative awards in science. Demis Hassabis and John Jumper, both at DeepMind in London, were recognized for creating the tool that has predicted the 3D structures of almost every known protein on the planet.
“Few discoveries so dramatically alter a field, so rapidly,” says Mohammed AlQuraishi, a computational biologist at Columbia University in New York City. “It’s really changed the practice of structural biology, both computational and experimental.”
Since DeepMind released an open-source version of AlphaFold in July 20211, more than half a million researchers have used the machine-learning system, generating thousands of papers. In July this year, DeepMind released 200 million protein structures predicted from amino-acid sequences. So far, the data have been harnessed to tackle problems ranging from antibiotic resistance to crop resilience.
Life-sciences Breakthrough prize was awarded jointly to sleep scientists Masashi Yanagisawa at the University of Tsukuba, Japan, and Emmanuel Mignot at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, for independently discovering that narcolepsy is caused by a deficiency of the brain chemical orexin.
This year’s Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics is shared between four founders of the field of quantum information: Peter Shor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge; David Deutsch at the University of Oxford, UK; Charles Bennett at IBM in Yorktown, New York; and Gilles Brassard at the University of Montreal in Canada. Their research laid the groundwork for the development of ultra-secure communications and computers that might one day outperform standard machines at some tasks.
Clifford Brangwynne at Princeton University in New Jersey and Anthony Hyman at the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics in Dresden, Germany, won a prize discovering a mechanism by which cell contents can organize themselves by segregating into droplets.
The Breakthrough Prize in Mathematics goes to Daniel Spielman, a mathematician at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut. Spielman was recognized for multiple advances, including the development of error-correcting codes to filter out noise in high-definition television broadcasts.
Brian Wang is a Futurist Thought Leader and a popular Science blogger with 1 million readers per month. His blog Nextbigfuture.com is ranked #1 Science News Blog. It covers many disruptive technology and trends including Space, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Medicine, Anti-aging Biotechnology, and Nanotechnology.
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