To see proteins change in a quadrillionth of a second, use AI

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Have you ever had an otherwise perfect photo ruined by someone who moved too quickly and caused a blur? Scientists have the same issue while recording images of proteins that change their structure in response to light. This process is common in nature, so for years researchers have tried to capture its details. But they have long been thwarted by how incredibly fast it happens.

Now a team of researchers from the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee and the Center for Free-Electron Laser Science at the Deutsches Elektronen-Synchrotron in Germany have combined machine learning and quantum mechanical calculations to get the most precise record yet of structural changes in a photoactive yellow protein (PYP) that has been excited by light. Their study, published in November in Nature, showed that they were able to make movies of processes that occur in quadrillionths of a second.

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