Abu Dhabi: Abu Dhabi’s Mohamed bin Zayed University of Artificial Intelligence (MBZUAI) is set to get a biocomputing innovation research laboratory to address “critical life science needs”.
The university has signed an agreement with biotech company BioMap to develop the lab, which will be one of the first in the Middle East.
The agreement was signed by BioMap vice president of strategic development Jiarun Qu, and MBZUAI deputy department chair of machine learning and director of the Centre for Integrative Artificial Intelligence (CIAI), Dr Kun Zhang. The two parties will collaborate on the application of AI protein generation capabilities to large-scale life science models in order to help promote sustainable development, and improve human health in the Middle East.
“We’re excited to partner with BioMap on this groundbreaking project. We will collaborate to fast-track both energy sustainability solutions and the creation of new drugs that could help treat aging-associated diseases. The university is establishing itself in the AI and healthcare space, with faculty and students dedicated to research that is making drug design faster, more affordable and more sustainable,” Dr Zhang said.
Aim for breakthroughs
The two parties will focus on creating breakthroughs in line with the needs of the Middle East’s most pressing needs in medical health, drug design, energy, and environmental protection. Harnessing joint capabilities, they will explore new technologies to advance protein generation, protein structure prediction, cell function prediction, and other foundational life science challenges.
“We’re thrilled to be partnering with world-class AI universities like MBZUAI, and working alongside top local talents. By bringing together our experimental expertise with MBZUAI’s cutting-edge AI technology and life science research, we can supercharge the application of AI large-scale models in the life science industry. And that means we can help improve human health and pave the way for a sustainable future,” Qu said.
The joint laboratory will carry out research in two distinct directions: the de novo design of oil degradation enzymes, and in the identification of potential drug targets for the treatment of aging-associated and rare diseases.
In recent years, scientists have explored the use of enzymes to efficiently degrade contaminants caused by oil. For example, alkanes as the major components of crude oils, are commonly found in oil-contaminated environments. Although there are various kinds of alkane oxygenase extracted from microbes, those enzymes usually require a higher temperature to function with ideal catalytic activity, which is actually not the case in marine oil spills, oil and gas storage, and transportation.
The joint laboratory will also explore the de novo design of new proteins that can improve alkane oxygenase catalytic function under lower temperature and without the help of coenzymes. Such proteins could enhance the performance and broaden the applications of oil degradation enzymes and oil recovery enzymes by optimising their catalytic efficiency under different conditions.
Alongside sustainability research, the two parties will also focus on scientific research on aging-associated diseases. According to the World Health Organisation, by 2050 the global population of people aged 60 years and older will double to 2.1 billion, and with it, the world will see a surge in aging-associated diseases.