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Home » California, Energy, Federal Agency, Process, R & D Focus

New Machine Learning Approach Could Accelerate Bioengineering

Submitted by on June 7, 2018 – 8:00 pmNo Comment

(Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory/Biomass Magazine)  Scientists from the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory have developed a way to use machine learning to dramatically accelerate the design of microbes that produce biofuel.

Their computer algorithm starts with abundant data about the proteins and metabolites in a biofuel-producing microbial pathway, but no information about how the pathway actually works. It then uses data from previous experiments to learn how the pathway will behave. The scientists used the technique to automatically predict the amount of biofuel produced by pathways that have been added to E. coli bacterial cells.

The new approach is much faster than the current way to predict the behavior of pathways, and promises to speed up the development of biomolecules for many applications in addition to commercially viable biofuels, such as drugs that fight antibiotic-resistant infections and crops that withstand drought.

The research was published May 29 in the journal Nature Systems Biology and Applications

The current way to predict a pathway’s dynamics requires a maze of differential equations that describe how the components in the system change over time. Subject-area experts develop these “kinetic models” over several months, and the resulting predictions don’t always match experimental results.

Machine learning, however, uses data to train a computer algorithm to make predictions. The algorithm learns a system’s behavior by analyzing data from related systems. This allows scientists to quickly predict the function of a pathway even if its mechanisms are poorly understood—as long as there are enough data to work with. READ MORE

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