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How the Proteins Shape Up

A program from DeepMind Technologies can predict how proteins fold, the Guardian reports.

DeepMind, which is owned by Google parent Alphabet, developed a program called AlphaFold that relies on deep learning and that was trained on a public database of protein structures, BBC News adds. They entered the program into a competition Critical Assessment of Structure Prediction (CASP) in which entrants are given the amino acid sequences for about 100 proteins to then predict their structures, the Guardian says, noting that the results from the computer programs entered are compared to results of lab work. 

In this year's contest, AlphaFold had a median score of 92.5 out of 100, though that score fell to 87 for trickier structures. The New York Times adds that when the program made an error, it was at a rate similar to that of physical experiments.

"A better understanding of protein structures and the ability to predict them using a computer means a better understanding of life, evolution and, of course, human health and disease," Janet Thornton of EMBL's European Bioinformatics Institute tells the BBC.

DeepMind says it has begun working with groups to study malaria, sleeping sickness, and leishmaniasis, the Guardian notes.