John Jumper, together with Demis Hassabis, was awarded the 2023 Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences. In 2023, they also won the Canada Gairdner International Award and the Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award. These prestigious awards were for developing AlphaFold, the artificial intelligence (AI) system that can predict the structure of a protein, at scale and in minutes, down to atomic accuracy.
Jumper was initially trained as a physicist and earned his BS in Physics and Mathematics from Vanderbilt University, USA, in 2007. Following his MPhil in Theoretical Condensed Matter Physics from the University of Cambridge, UK, he joined D.E. Shaw Research (DESRES), where he worked on molecular dynamics simulations of protein dynamics and supercooled liquids. He then did his PhD in Chemistry at the University of Chicago, USA, where he developed machine learning methods to simulate protein dynamics.
Proteins perform a variety of vital roles inside cells. Their diverse functions are closely linked to the forms they take after they fold from linear amino acid chains into three-dimensional (3D) structures. Predicting their 3D structure from the sequence of their amino acids has been the grand challenge in biology for over 50 years and central to understanding the workings of life. Conventional methods that have taken years and millions of dollars are being replaced by novel AI-driven technologies. Dr Jumper has been at the forefront of these efforts.
Dr Jumper joined Hassabis in Google DeepMind in late 2017 to work on the nascent AlphaFold project. In 2018, he became the research lead, with the goal of redesigning the system with a completely new architecture. The advent of AlphaFold2 has presented unparalleled progress in protein structure prediction. This highly accurate system has made structure predictions for over 200 million proteins; they cover almost all documented proteins – not only of humans but also of animals, plants, fungi, bacteria, and viruses.