Solving one of biology’s biggest mysteries has led to the creation of a new scientific database that could revolutionise the way diseases are treated, according to scientists.
Researchers from Google-owned artificial intelligence (AI) lab DeepMind, and European Bioinformatics Institute (EMBL), have launched a database featuring 20,000 structures for the complete set of proteins expressed in the human body, known as the human proteome.
They say understanding more about protein shapes could play a key role in the development of novel drugs to treat a wide range of illnesses, from dementia and cancer to infectious diseases such as Covid-19.
The team used DeepMind’s AI program, called AlphaFold, to visualise the structure of proteins. These complex molecules play many critical roles in the human body and are often dubbed the “building blocks of life”.
In addition to the human proteome, the database features 350,000 structures – including 20 additional organisms deemed important for biological research such as E.coli, fruit fly, mouse, zebrafish, malaria parasite and tuberculosis bacteria.
Ben Perry, who is discovery open innovation leader at Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative (DNDi), one of the research partners using AlphaFold, said: “We need to supercharge the discovery of new drugs for the millions of people at risk of neglected diseases around the world.
“It can be a game changer: by quickly and accurately predicting protein structures, AlphaFold opens new research horizons, improving both the scope and efficiency of R&D (research and development) and facilitating our research in endemic countries.”
The launch of the new database comes after last year DeepMind managed to solve one of the biggest scientific problems that has stumped researchers for half a century: how proteins fold into 3D shapes.
The team used AlphaFold to predict this complicated biological process – making confident predictions of the structural position of 58% of proteins in the human proteome.
Researchers say knowing more about this process is fundamental to understanding the biological machinery of life and could lead to development of new drugs to treat diseases.
Before AI, protein shapes were determined using a method known as crystallography, which according to experts, takes months and years to do.
Demis Hassabis, founder and chief executive of London-based DeepMind, said: “We used AlphaFold to generate the most complete and accurate picture of the human proteome.
“We believe this represents the most significant contribution AI has made to advancing scientific knowledge to date, and is a great illustration of the sorts of benefits AI can bring to society.”
At present, the work is being used to look for potential new medicines for neglected tropical diseases, such as Chagas disease – a potentially life-threatening illness caused by the parasite Trypanosoma cruzi, and leishmaniasis, also caused by a parasite.
Experts are also using AlphaFold’s predictions to develop enzymes that can break down plastics.
EMBL’s deputy director general, Ewan Birney, said the new database of protein shapes contains one of the most important datasets since the mapping of the human genome – a 13-year effort that led to the cataloguing of all the genes of human beings.
He said: “Making AlphaFold predictions accessible to the international scientific community opens up so many new research avenues, from neglected diseases to new enzymes for biotechnology and everything in between.
“This is a great new scientific tool, which complements existing technologies, and will allow us to push the boundaries of our understanding of the world.”
The scientists said their aim is to visualise more than 100 million protein structures that, according to EMBL director general Edith Heard, will be “a revolution for the life sciences”.
She said: “Sharing AlphaFold predictions openly and freely will empower researchers everywhere to gain new insights and drive discovery.”
The research behind the new database is published in the journal Nature.
There is contact! -Russia's new Nauka space module docks wit… – MENAFN.COM
(MENAFN – The Peninsula)
MOSCOW: Russia upgraded its capabilities on the International Space Station on Thursday after its new Nauka module, set to serve as a research lab, storage unit and airlock, successfully docked with it after a nervy journey from Earth.
A live broadcast from Russia’s space agency, Roscosmos, showed the module, a multipurpose laboratory named after the Russian word for ‘science’, docking with the ISS at 1329 GMT, a few minutes later than scheduled.
“According to telemetry data and reports from the ISS crew, the onboard systems of the station and the Nauka module are operating normally,” Roscosmos said in a statement.
“There is contact!!!” Dmitry Rogozin, the head of Roscosmos, wrote on Twitter moments after the docking.
Since it launch last week from Kazakhstan’s Baikonur Cosmodrome, the module had suffered a series of glitches that had raised concerns about whether the docking procedure would go smoothly.
Thursday’s development suggests Russia is interested in maintaining the ISS despite previous comments from Rogozin who last month suggested Moscow would withdraw from it in 2025 unless Washington lifted sanctions on the space sector that he said were hampering Russian satellite launches.
Launched in 1998, the ISS is a multinational project and comprises two segments, a Russian one and another one used by the United States and other space agencies.
“After its commissioning, the Russian segment will receive additional room for arranging workplaces, storing cargo and housing water and oxygen regeneration equipment,” Roscosmos said its statement.
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Halifax researcher part of team behind black hole discovery that proves Einstein right – Global News
A researcher at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax was part of a team of scientists that observed light coming from behind a black hole for the very first time, confirming a prediction from famous physicist Albert Einstein’s theory of general relativity.
While scientists have seen X-ray emissions around black holes before, it’s the first time light has been spotted behind a black hole – and the new discovery could lead to a better understanding of what’s still largely considered to be an astronomical mystery.
Luigi Gallo, a professor of astronomy at Saint Mary’s University who’s been studying black holes for 20 years, worked on the data analysis and interpretation for this research project, led by Stanford University astrophysicist Dan Wilkins.
“They’re my favourite objects, but I think I’m biased a bit,” Gallo said of black holes. “It’s the most extreme object in space, right? We don’t know a lot about them.”
Gallo’s research focuses on supermassive black holes – the regions in space where gravity is so strong that not even light can escape. Supermassive black holes are 10 million times larger than the sun.
Because of their very nature, black holes themselves can’t be seen. Scientists are only able to observe the objects around them.
As materials in space fall into a black hole, they form what’s called an “accretion disk,” where they spiral around before falling into the black hole.
On top of a black hole is a primary light source known as a “corona,” which illuminates the material. When the light shines onto the accretion disk, it bounces off and creates X-ray emissions or flares.
“It’s not exactly like a reflection in a mirror. What happens is that light comes back with different colours and it comes back at different times,” Gallo explained.
Proving Einstein right
What the five-person research team observed was a big flare coming from a supermassive black hole in a galaxy 800 million light-years away known as I Zwicky 1, using two space-based X-ray telescopes from NASA and the European Space Agency.
Shortly after seeing the big flare, Gallo said they observed a smaller flare in a different colour – an “echo” of the first flare.
“We were able to interpret that as light coming from the other side of the black hole,” said Gallo. “Which is really kind of cool, we haven’t ever been able to isolate exactly where light is coming from on the accretion disk … but in this instance, we’re actually able to say, ‘Oh, this light is coming from behind the black hole.’”
Shedding light on a black hole
That echo could be seen because the black hole was warping space by bending light around itself. Thus, Einstein’s century-old prediction was proven right, Gallo said.
“This is basically confirming how the space-time around a supermassive black hole is shaped,” he said.
“That’s why we can see light coming from behind the black hole, it’s because it’s taken this curved path around the black hole and landing now on us, so that we can see it … Because space is bent, which is a prediction of general relativity, we’re able to see what’s behind the black hole.”
This research, published earlier this week in Nature, opens the door a little further for scientists studying black holes.
Gallo said it will allow them to eventually draw a 3D picture of what the region around the supermassive black hole looks like. As well, he said they will continue to study “coronas” to better understand them, which was actually the driving motivation behind this discovery.
Gallo took note of the “incremental” nature of science and said there are decades of other discoveries that led them to this point.
“The telescopes that we work on get better and better with time, and the techniques that we develop get better and better,” he said.
“The discovery made today … is based on decades of work of many, many other scientists that brought us here.”
He added that it’s important to study black holes, since their formation and evolution is “tightly linked” to the formation and evolution of galaxies.
“Galaxies are stars, and then the stars are forming planets, and planets are where we are,” he said. “All this is kind of tied in understanding the origins of where we come from.
“So it is an important field of research, but it’s fun. So it’s kind of easy for me to justify doing this kind of work.”
— With a file from The Canadian Press
© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.
In photos: Boeing's Starliner Orbital Test Flight 2 mission to the International Space Station – Space.com
As part of the Flight Readiness Review for Boeing’s uncrewed Orbital Flight Test-2 (OFT-2), NASA astronauts for Boeing’s Crew Flight Test (CFT), Commander Barry “Butch” Wilmore, Pilot Nicole Mann, and Joint Ops Commander E. Michael “Mike” Fincke address NASA and Boeing managers in Operations Support Building 2 at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, on July 22, 2021.
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