However, for many proteins “we’re interested in understanding how their structure is altered by mutations and natural allelic variation, and that won’t be addressed by this database,” said AlQuraishi. “But of course the field is developing fast, and so I expect tools to accurately model protein variants will begin to appear soon,” he added.
The quality of AlphaFold’s predictions may also not be as accurate for rarer proteins with less available evolutionary information, says Peng.
The move is the latest development in DeepMind’s push into “digital biology,” where “AI and computational methods can help to understand and model important biological processes,” said Hassabis. Hassabis also leads a new venture, also owned by Alphabet, called Isomorphic Labs, which is developing AI for drug discovery.
Pushmeet Kohli, head of AI for science at DeepMind, said the company has plenty of challenges in the life sciences it still wants to tackle, such as how proteins behave and interact with other proteins.
Hassabis said his dream is that AI could not just help figure out the structure of proteins, but become a “significant part of the discovery process for new drugs and cures.”