Million Breakthrough Prize Goes to Alphafold and Others

$3 Million Breakthrough Prize Goes to Alphafold and Others

A pair of AI researchers behind the Alphafold protein folding program have been awarded one of five $3 million (US) “Innovator Awards”.

The Breakthrough Awards were founded a decade ago by a group of Internet entrepreneurs, including Yuri Milner, a Russian-Israeli billionaire, and Mark Zuckerberg, the American CEO of Meta.

They reward five annual prizes for researchers who have made “game-changing discoveries” in three fields: Life Sciences, Fundamental Physics, and Mathematics.

They are considered the most lucrative prizes in science.

UK-based AI researchers Demis Hassabis and John Jumper, the brains behind Deepmind’s Alphafold, are among the Life Sciences award recipients.

Alphafold has predicted the structures of almost every protein known to science. Understanding how proteins fold is a notoriously difficult problem, and Alphafold represents a colossal leap in this field.

Two other Life Sciences prizes have been awarded, one to Clifford Brangwynne, based at Princeton University in the US, and Anthony Hyman, based at the Max Planck Institute in Germany, for their discovery of a new process in cell dynamics. They have shown how proteins and other biomolecules in cells can interact with each other without the presence of a cell membrane.

Another went to Emmanuel Mignot, from Stanford University in the US, and Masashi Yanagisawa, from the University of Tsukuba in Japan, for their work on narcolepsy, a disorder that presents chronic attacks of sleepiness.

Mignot and Yanagisawa separately discovered that a protein called orexin, which normally regulates wakefulness, plays a key role in narcolepsy. When the immune system attacks the cells that produce orexin, people can develop neurodegenerative narcolepsy. This work has stimulated treatments that relieve narcoleptic symptoms.

The Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics went to an international group of four researchers for “fundamental work in the field of quantum information”, while the prize in mathematics went to the American mathematician Daniel Spielman for “contributions to theoretical computer science and mathematics”. “.

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