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AlphaFold developers and EMBL alumnus among Breakthrough Prize recipients

Cell biologist Anthony Hyman and DeepMind’s Demis Hassabis and John Jumper were announced among 25 Breakthrough Prize recipients

Credit: Creative Team/EMBL

EMBL congratulates the recipients of the 2023 Breakthrough Prizes, which recognise the world’s top scientists in the life sciences, fundamental physics and mathematics.

Among this year’s recipients are DeepMind’s Demis Hassabis and John Jumper, who are honoured for developing a deep learning AI method that rapidly and accurately predicts the three-dimensional structure of proteins from their amino acid sequence.

EMBL worked closely with them to develop the AlphaFold Protein Structure Database hosted by EMBL-EBI and provides open access to more than 200 million protein structure predictions. Since the database launch in 2021, thousands of researchers have accessed the structures and used them to further their research in different ways.

“I extend heartfelt congratulations to Demis Hassabis and John Jumper,” says EMBL Director General Edith Heard. “We can already see AlphaFold opening up new avenues of research, and I look forward to seeing how it will continue to transform the scientific questions we are able to explore.”

EMBL Deputy Director General Ewan Birney adds to the congratulations, saying that “it has been an exciting journey to collaborate with DeepMind to make AlphaFold predictions openly available to the worldwide scientific community. It’s a pleasure to see this tool being recognized by this prestigious prize.”

Also among the six recipients for the life science prize is Anthony Hyman, who was a group leader at EMBL Heidelberg before taking up his current role as Director of the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Cell Biology in Dresden, Germany in 1997. He receives the honour together with Clifford P. Brangwynne of Princeton University for discovering a fundamental mechanism of cellular organization mediated by phase separation of proteins and RNA into membraneless liquid droplets.

The Breakthrough Prize is the second large prize for Hyman this year. In June he was announced as the recipient of the Körber European Science Prize.

“On behalf of the EMBL community I congratulate Tony for this special honour,” says EMBL Director General Edith Heard. “His work on membraneless liquid condensates has been significant for our understanding of cellular organisation and demonstrates the importance of fundamental research for finding potential clinical applications of the future.” The third Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences was awarded to Emmanuel Mignot, Stanford University School of Medicine, USA, and Masashi Yanagisawa, University of Tsukuba, Japan, for discovering that narcolepsy is caused by the loss of a small population of brain cells that make a wake-promoting substance, paving the way for the development of new treatments for sleep disorders. A list of all awards is available online.


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