TIME honors protein designer David Baker

News magazine profiles 100 of the world’s most influential figures in health fields and biomedical sciences.

Media Contact: Leila Gray - leilag@uw.edu, 206-475-9809

Protein design pioneer David Baker was named to the inaugural TIME100 Health list. Baker is a professor of biochemistry at the University of Washington School of Medicine and director of the UW Medicine Institute of Protein Design.

The new, annual honor from the news magazine recognizes a hundred global leaders for advancing progress in health, medicine, biomedical sciences and related fields.

Proteins are molecular machines and tools that are the workhorses of most biological activities.  When Baker became interested in protein engineering, the emphasis in other similar labs at the time was on remodeling existing protein molecules  for new purposes.

However, according to the magazine's profile, “Baker isn’t interested in tinkering. Rather than modifying the proteins that nature has bestowed on us, Baker designs entirely new ones.”



During his career, Baker and his team predicted how chains of amino acids folded into protein structures, then moved to developing computer programs to build new protein molecules with desired shapes, based on the knowledge that a protein’s structure determines its function. They then went on to design and create proteins that previously had not existed in nature to perform certain tasks.

His team's work has led to practical applications that include new platforms for creating vaccines, such as ones against COVID and respiratory syncytial virus, which is a serious respiratory infection in babies and older adults. The Institute for Protein Design is also working on new ways to produce energy through synthetic biology as well as nano-scale cargo-carriers to deliver therapeutics into cells.

More recently his protein design team was widely lauded for deep-learning computer programs to apply artificial intelligence to speed protein design and even dream up new proteins beyond what scientists might imagine.

Baker is also noted for his international leadership in promoting ethical, responsible use of AI as a protein design tool. The Seattle native is also a long-time investigator in the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

Trulio de Oliveira, affiliate professor of global health at the UW School of Medicine and the UW School of Public Health, also was named to the TIME100 Health list. His main faculty appointment is professor of bioinformatics at the University of KwaZulu-Natal and Stellenbosch University, South Africa. A native of Brazil, he was recognized for his role in hunting viruses in Africa, for his work in global preparedness for emerging pathogens, and for creating two major institutes in Africa to track viral diseases. Both institutes use advanced genomic sequencing techniques in monitoring viruses. In 2022 de Oliveira was named to the overall TIME100 list for his leadership in identifying and reporting new COVID strains in Africa.  

The full list and related profiles appear in the May 13, 2024 issue of TIME on newsstands Friday, May 3, and online at time.com/time100health


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