Exploring the Intersection of Physics and Biology: Breakthrough Prize for Quantum Information and Cellular Mechanics

Breakthrough Prize in Quantum Information and Cellular Physics

The Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences for this year is dominated by the physical sciences. Six individuals shared the prize. Demis Hassabis of DeepMind, an AI company based in London, and John Jumper were each awarded a third prize. They developed AlphaFold, which is a machine learning algorithm that accurately predicts the 3D structure from the amino-acid chain of a polypeptide. Emmanuel Mignot of Stanford University School of Medicine, and Masashi Yanagisawa of University of Tsukuba in Japan were both awarded for their research on the sleeping disorder narcolepsy.

Clifford Brangwynne of Princeton University and Anthony Hyman of Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics, Germany, received the remainder of the award for their discovery that the molecular machine within a cellular–proteins and RNAs–organizes itself by phase separating in liquid droplets. The phase separation process is now known to play a role in many basic cellular functions including gene expression and protein storage.

Rohit Pappu is a biophysicist at Washington University, St. Louis. He says that the award for Brangwynne & Hyman \”shows the transformative role the physics and physics polymers and soft matter can play in the cell biology.\” The discovery could not have occurred in the manner it did, namely a young creative physicist who worked with a cell biologist of imagination and creativity within an environment where boundaries are constantly being pushed.


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