DeepMind has given 3-D structure to 350,000 proteins, including every one made by humans, promising a boon for medicine and drug design.
For some years now John McGeehan, a biologist and the director of the Center for Enzyme Innovation in Portsmouth, England, has been searching for a molecule that could break down the 150 million tons of soda bottles and other plastic waste strewn across the globe.
Working with researchers on both sides of the Atlantic, he has found a few good options. But his task is that of the most demanding locksmith: to pinpoint the chemical compounds that on their own will twist and fold into the microscopic shape that can fit perfectly into the molecules of a plastic bottle and split them apart, like a key opening a door.
Determining the exact chemical contents of any given enzyme is a fairly simple challenge these days. But identifying its three-dimensional shape can involve years of biochemical experimentation. So last fall, after reading that an artificial intelligence lab in London called DeepMind had built a system that automatically predicts the shapes of enzymes and other proteins, Dr. McGeehan asked the lab if it could help with his project.