Jhe latest Breakthrough Prizes, among the most lucrative research awards in the world, have been reward today (September 22) to life scientists working in fields as diverse as neuroscience and artificial intelligence. Six men shared three prizes, each worth $3 million and sponsored by philanthropists Sergey Brin, Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg, Julia and Yuri Milner and Anne Wojcicki.
The first prize will be shared by geneticist Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics Anthony Hyman and bioengineer from Princeton University and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute Clifford Brangwynneformerly postdoctoral fellow in Hyman’s laboratory, for their work in discovering a fundamental mechanism of cellular organization: liquid-liquid phase separation. When the two scientists first published an article on the phenomenon in Science in 2009, it received little fanfare outside of a small group of niche researchers, according to a Press release of Princeton, garnering only about ten citations in the first few years. “I knew it was cool. But no one was talking about awards,” Brangwynne said in the statement, adding that “a lot has happened since.”
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Now it has been discovered that phase separation plays a role in protein aggregation, gene expression, cell growth cancer and neurodegenerative diseases, among other processes.
Half Hassabis and Jean Jumperboth artificial intelligence researchers from the London-based computer programming company DeepMind, received a joint award for their development work Folding Alpha 2, a deep learning system that accurately and quickly models the three-dimensional structure of proteins. Predicting the shapes that proteins take, which in turn dictate their function, has been one of the great challenges of modern biology. This summer, the team released the planned structures for 200 million proteins derived from almost any organism with protein sequence data, making their results freely available. “Few discoveries change a field so drastically, so quickly,” said Mohammed AlQuraishi, a computational biologist at Columbia University in New York. Nature. “It really changed the practice of structural biology, both computational and experimental.”
Finally, a sleep researcher at Stanford University School of Medicine Emmanuel Mignot and molecular geneticist from the University of Tsukuba Masashi Yanagisawa received a joint award after their labs achieved simultaneous, convergent discoveries that elucidated the genetic cause of narcolepsy, a chronic sleep disorder. Work of the two researchers demonstrated that narcolepsy is a neurodegenerative disease of autoimmune origin and mediated by a protein called orexin (or sometimes hypocretin) which regulates wakefulness. Research has yet to yield a cure for the disease, but many potential therapies are in clinical trials. “If all goes well, then maybe three or four years from now there will be clinically available drug treatment,” Yanagisawa said. new scientist.
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In addition to life sciences, Breakthrough Prizes have also been awarded in mathematics and fundamental physics. The awards honored contributions to the study of theoretical computing and quantum information, respectively.