By: Jordan Coll / Asst. News Director
Artificial intelligence and biological research have been placed at the forefront of unveiling a potential vaccine against COVID-19.
With a $1 million grant awarded by the National Institutes of Health covering a three-year plan, FIU researchers are coming up with effective ways to use machine algorithms to understand the genetic makeup of the virus.
“Essentially what we are dealing with is a virus that is still unknown to us… using these large computers can help us study various proteins at a single time instead of just viewing one,” said associate professor and lead investigator Fahad Saeed.
As an undergrad, Saeed believed that both computer science and biological studies play a necessary role in developing proteomics, the study of proteins. The idea of tapping into computer science in determining protein structure comes from research conducted throughout the 1990s, known as genome sequencing.
He intends on using the grant along with his colleagues at the School of Computing and Information Sciences. He believes that machine-learning can influence the progression of their research by shortening the time it takes to find a cure.
Deviating from more traditional methods of viewing one protein sequence at a time, FIU researchers are investing in facilities that will help speed up this process.
“By using these algorithms with the help of supercomputers, we can learn with ease the nature of these viruses,” said Saeed.
Saeed suggests that by understanding the nature of proteins you can figure out how their coding and the production of certain antibodies. These antibodies can, therefore, be studied and replicated to inhibit the spread of the virus.
“Antibody design is something that is directly related to our research… so in other words we can use a high input amount of data and translate it through machine algorithms to come up with a three-dimensional structure of the virus,” said Saeed.
Like any other virus, COVID-19 has gone through several phases of mutations, “by finding a foundational algorithm that can be a resource to the international scientific community… other researchers can use our published data to help counteract the virus,” said professor Shu-Ching co-principal investigator of the grant.
As the Co-Director of the Integrated Computer Augmented Virtual Environment, he finds the results of using AI to be a promising asset to their ongoing research. “The connection between computer science and biology is quite pivotal, especially during a pandemic of this magnitude,” said Shu-Ching.
The emergence of this field has allowed biologists to understand the spectrum of proteins that exist and their functions in organisms.
Currently, his team is looking for FIU graduates and postdoctoral students that can help with analyzing the data generated from these supercomputers.