DeepMind’s protein-folding AI has solved a 50-year-old grand challenge of biology

DeepMind’s protein-folding AI has solved a 50-year-old grand challenge of biology

https://www.technologyreview.com/2020/11/30/1012712/deepmind-protein-folding-ai-solved-biology-science-drugs-disease/

The news: The latest version of DeepMind’s deep-learning system AlphaFold has cracked one of biology’s grand challenges: predicting the shape of proteins.

The breakthrough: A protein is made from a ribbon of amino acids that folds itself up with many complex twists and turns and tangles. This structure determines what it does and figuring out what proteins do is key to understanding the basic mechanisms of life. AlphaFold can predict the shape of proteins to within the width of an atom, meaning it matches the accuracy of experimental techniques that happen in the lab. The difference is that while lab techniques can take hundreds of thousands of dollars and years of trial and error for each protein, AlphaFold can find a protein’s shape in a few days.

The significance: The breakthrough could help researchers design new drugs and understand diseases. In the longer term, predicting protein structure will also help design synthetic proteins, such as enzymes that digest waste or produce biofuels. Read the full story.

—Will Douglas Heaven

The tiny island that has made contact tracing apps work

A case study: Countries struggling to get contact tracing apps to work could look to Guam — a tiny US territory closer to the Korean Peninsula than the North American mainland. With no budget, and relying almost entirely on a grassroots volunteer effort, Guam has got 29% of the island’s adult residents to download its exposure notification app, a rate of adoption that outstrips states with far more resources.

Some background: Guam diagnosed its first covid cases in March, and around the same time, the island was offered a partnership with the PathCheck Foundation, a nonprofit that was building government contact tracing apps. It took several months to build, test, and tweak its own version, using a system developed by Google and Apple and uses Bluetooth signals to alert people that they’ve crossed paths with someone who later tests positive. By September, it was ready.

A marketing blitz: The next task arrived: recruiting users. The app developers knew just the people to build buzz: the Guam Visitors Bureau. Tourism is massively important to the island, and staff jumped at the chance to help. With no funding, they ran a grassroots campaign reaching out to organizations, schools, and cultural groups across the island with the message that the app could help suppress the virus, if enough people were willing to “be a covid warrior.” Read the full story.

— Cat Ferguson

We can still have nice things

A place for comfort, fun and distraction in these weird times. (Got any ideas? Drop me a line or tweet ‘em at me.)

. + Waiter, waiter, there’s something wrong with my wine.

. + When his twin sister went to med school, this young artist promised to draw her a bunny everyday. He’s now done over 1,000.

. + Working from home seems to be making many of us healthier.

. + Alenka Artnik recently set a world record in free diving, but she thinks she can go even deeper than 300 feet. (NYT $)

. + The White House is getting a cat again.

. + One of the worst signs I have ever seen.

. + Pasta cooked in two bottles of red wine, if you dare.

. + Another metal monolith has popped up… in Romania. We’ve all seen the movies, this is how it begins.

The top ten must-reads

I’ve combed the internet to find you today’s most fun/important/scary/fascinating stories about technology.

1 A critical winter for the US

Vaccines and a new administration bring hope. But the country is in for a rough ride between now and then. (NYT $)

2 Moderna has applied for emergency FDA approval for its covid-19 vaccine 💉

It could receive it in just weeks. (CNN)

. + The CDC will vote today on who gets vaccinated first. (Poynter)

. + No one who received Moderna’s vaccine during trials developed severe covid-19. (Science)

. + Facebook has banned some antivax pages, but it won’t make a huge difference. (NBC)

. + The top five vaccine candidates explained. (Wired UK)

3 Biden is being urged to reject Big Tech lobbyists

The race to influence him is hotting up. (Reuters)

4 Facebook’s pre-election political ad blackout didn’t diminish reach

To be fair, that wasn’t its aim. (Axios).

. + Amnesty International says Facebook and Google assist with censorship in Vietnam. (FT $)

5 Did the Gatwick drone even exist?

Either it didn’t, or it was an extremely sophisticated operation. (The Guardian)

6 Beijing has introduced new tech export restrictions

It’s in retaliation for similar measures from the US. (BBC)

7 How much money can you make on TikTok?

A lot, but it’s not easy, it’s unpredictable, and requires a hefty dose of good luck. (Lifehacker)

. + TikTok helped push homesteading back into the mainstream. (Wired $)

8 How to have an actually fun virtual party 🥳

Move over Zoom. It’s all about proximity chat. (Wired $)

. + The pandemic has brought back the humble phone call. (WSJ $)

9 Bitcoin just hit its highest price ever 📈

The last time this happened, it was because a single person had manipulated the market. (Vice)

10 Maybe it’s time to do some digital decluttering

Not fun, but immensely satisfying once it’s done. (Gizmodo)

CyberSecure kicks off tomorrow!

Join us for a virtual conversation on mitigating cyber risk. Hear directly from researchers, service providers, policymakers, industry figures, and victims who deal with all aspects of achieving cyber resilience. Time is running out. Purchase your ticket now.

QUOTE OF THE DAY

“We don’t even know who is dead or alive.”

— Glenda King, a 68-year-old resident at an assisted living facility called Bronxwood in New York, tells ProPublica how little communication they’ve had from the management there.

Charlotte Jee

Top image credit: DeepMind

Please send metal monoliths to hi@technologyreview.com.

Follow me on Twitter at @charlottejee. Thanks for reading!

— Charlotte

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