THE OBSERVER: The 10 biggest science stories of 2022 – chosen by scientists

Press/Media: Expert comment

Period18 Dec 2022

Media contributions


Media contributions

  • TitleThe 10 biggest science stories of 2022 – chosen by scientists
    Media name/outletThe Observer
    Media typeWeb
    Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
    DescriptionOver the course of the past few years, AI has transformed the field of molecular biology. The revolution started with the AlphaFold algorithm, which rapidly predicts the complex three-dimensional structures of proteins, thus aiding the understanding of protein functions and the identification of drug targets. This year, AI has achieved another breakthrough, this time at the other end of the drug discovery pipeline: several groups in 2022 have reported the first successful applications of AI to identify novel antibiotic drugs.

    Antimicrobial resistance is a major global threat. This year, the global research on antimicrobial resistance report published in the Lancet indicated that, worldwide, 4.95m deaths were associated with drug-resistant bacteria in 2019, making untreatable infections one of the leading causes of death.

    Developing new drugs that overcome resistance and replenish our arsenal of effective antimicrobials is a continuous struggle. And that is where AI is now beginning to make a major contribution. For example, Yue Ma and colleagues from the Chinese Academy of Sciences used machine-learning techniques originally developed for natural language processing to identify antimicrobial peptides encoded by the genome sequences of microbes in the human gut. The algorithm identified 2,349 potential antimicrobial peptide sequences. Of these, 216 peptides were synthesised by chemical methods, and 181 of them were shown to have antimicrobial activity. This is an impressive success rate, which would not have been possible without the aid of AI.

    Even more strikingly, almost half of the peptides discovered were entirely new, without obvious sequence similarity to known antimicrobials, thus increasing the chances of circumventing existing resistance mechanisms. Animal experiments showed that three of the new peptides could be used for the safe and effective treatment of bacterial pneumonia in mice. Studies such as this are good news, promising an unprecedented rapid route towards novel treatment options for some of the scariest pathogenic threats we currently face. Eriko Takano

    Eriko Takano is professor of synthetic biology at the Manchester Institute of Biotechnology
    PersonsEriko Takano

Research Beacons, Institutes and Platforms

  • Biotechnology


  • antibiotics
  • artifical intelligence