2021 TIME100 Next
Ben Peter Catchpole
February 17, 2021 6:55 AM EST

Being able to predict the shape of proteins using amino-acid sequences could one day inform the development of new treatments for diseases, but learning the shape of even a single protein costs about $100,000 and takes a full year of a researcher’s time. Thanks to John Jumper, lead researcher for U.K.-based company DeepMind’s AlphaFold artificial-intelligence program, it’s now possible to cut that year of work to a single day. AlphaFold leverages neural networks—or algorithmic systems that learn by example—to more quickly compute the shape a protein folds into. The result: a technological leap forward that demonstrates the power of AI to solve complex problems and a better ability to use proteins to understand how diseases work, develop new drugs and more. —Jeffrey Kluger