An AI earthquake, cancer risks – the week in infographics

An AI ‘earthquake’ in biology

This graph illustrates how the artificial intelligence (AI) tool called AlphaFold has drastically increased the number of predicted protein structures – information that is important for working out protein functions. AlphaFold, unveiled last year by the London-based firm DeepMind, can predict the 3D shape of proteins from their genetic sequence with remarkable accuracy. A News Feature describes how the AI ​​has been “like an earthquake” for biology, allowing researchers to quickly explore the entire array of proteins – the proteome – of various species. (The Feature also contains other beautiful graphics.)

Source: E. Porta-Pardo et al. PLoS Comput. Biol. 18e1009818 (2022).

Why whales do not get more cancers

Animals that live the longest and have the most cells should theoretically be the most likely to develop cancer, because their cells are more likely to rack up enough problematic mutations over time. Whales, for example, should be at greater risk of cancer than mice. Strangely, however, this is not the case – a long-standing paradox in biology and one that a paper published in Nature helps to explain.

The authors gathered data that enabled them to estimate the mutation rate (the number of mutations per cell per year) for 16 animal species with different lifespans and body sizes. The list included mice, dogs, humans and horses (shown in this graphic) as well as ferrets, giraffes, rats and tigers. The team found that species with shorter lifespans accrue mutations at higher rates compared with long-lived ones, resulting in similar end-of-life mutation burdens per cell for different species. This finding partially explains the paradox, according to this News & Views article.

Economics’ missing women

Women are under-represented in academic roles in economics, according to an analysis of gender equality at top research institutions around much of the world.

The study showed that women occupied only 32% of all economics positions, with their representation declining from research associates and entry-level positions (40%) to senior levels (27%). Previous research has highlighted many factors that contribute to the gender gap, including discrimination, inappropriate behavior, elevated criticism, a hostile work culture and unequal hiring and promotion opportunities, as a News story reports.

GLOBAL GENDER IMBALANCE.  Chart shows that women are under-represented in economics at research institutions around the world.

Source: E. Auriol et al. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 119e2118853119 (2020).

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