BBC Inside Science
BBC Inside Science

Protein folding; Hyabusa sample return; Holiday Covid testing

Has one of the biggest problems in biology been solved by AI? Dr Alex Lathbridge brings you the week in science.

This week google's Deep Mind team presented results of their latest efforts at cracking the 50 year old problem of Protein Folding. AlphaFold has built on previous success at predicting the 3D structures of biological proteins from just knowing the sequence of amino acids of which it is made. It is a computational problem that thousands of researchers around the world have been trying to solve for decades. There are millions of different proteins doing all the work in living cells, but simply knowing what their constituent chemicals are is not enough to understand how they are shaped, and therefore how they work.

Scientists are optimistic that solving the problem will herald a new era in medicine, agriculture and even sustainable recycling. Prof John Moult, founding chair of CASP - the international body that monitors progress in the field, tells of the remarkable breakthrough being discussed this week.

Whilst China is trying to bring back samples of the moon this week, a much longer-lived space mission to an asteroid hopes this weekend to return samples of the earliest bits of the solar system to earth. Hyabusa 2 will complete a 6 year mission, Japanese scientists hope, this weekend when a small package of asteroid sample drops into the atmosphere above Australia on Sunday morning.

And as students across the UK prepare to make their ways home for the holidays, GP Margaret McCartney and Kavita Vedhara of Nottingham University discuss some of the challenges of fast mass covid testing and false negatives.

Presented by Alex Lathbridge

Produced by Alex Mansfield and Melanie Brown.

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