What is “protein folding”? A brief explanation
Yesterday, Google DeepMind announced that their deep learning system AlphaFold has achieved unprecedented levels of accuracy on the “protein folding problem”, a grand challenge problem in computational biochemistry.
What is this problem, and why is it hard?
I don’t usually do science reporting here at The Roots of Progress, but I spent a couple years on this problem in a junior role in the early days of D. E. Shaw Research, so it’s close to my heart. Here’s a five-minute explainer.
The 300-year journey to the covid vaccine
From inoculation to RNA
A covid vaccine has demonstrated 90% efficacy and no significant safety concerns in preliminary data from Phase 3 trials, according to an announcement from Pfizer and BioNTech SE. The trials aren’t yet complete and the data hasn’t yet been released for independent verification, but this is very good news. (More from STAT News.)
Pfizer/BioNTech’s vaccine, like Moderna’s, is based on “mRNA” technology. If approved by the FDA, it will be the first such vaccine to reach that milestone. From a long-term progress perspective, this is a big deal.
Immunization technology has existed since the early 1700s (and the folk practices it originated in go back centuries further.) We can see the whole 300-year history of the technology as a quest to achieve immunity with ever-more safety and ever-fewer side effects. More recently, it has also become important to be able to react quickly to new epidemics, such as covid.
Here’s how immunization has advanced in stages:
Video: Reboot 2020
I was interviewed by Lisa Wehden for Day Two of the Reboot 2020 conference hosted by the Lincoln Network. We discussed progress, stagnation, and the difference between academic research and Silicon Valley.