Model learns how individual amino acids determine protein function

Bonnie Berger | Via MIT | March 31, 2019

A machine-learning model from MIT researchers computationally breaks down how segments of amino acid chains determine a protein’s function, which could help researchers design and test new proteins for drug development or biological research.

Proteins are linear chains of amino acids, connected by peptide bonds, that fold into exceedingly complex three-dimensional structures, depending on the sequence and physical interactions within the chain. That structure, in turn, determines the protein’s biological function. Knowing a protein’s 3-D structure, therefore, is valuable for, say, predicting how proteins may respond to certain drugs.

However, despite decades of research and the development of multiple imaging techniques, we know only a very small fraction of possible protein structures — tens of thousands out of millions. Researchers are beginning to use machine-learning models to predict protein structures based on their amino acid sequences, which could enable the discovery of new protein structures. But this is challenging, as diverse amino acid sequences can form very similar structures. And there aren’t many structures on which to train the models… Continue reading.