joint prize of the Experientia Foundation
and the Learned Society of the Czech Republic for university students
This year’s winner of the Via Chimica Prize is
for his work using machine learning to predict biosynthetic reactions.
Using machine learning, we can predict biosynthetic reactions, says the first winner of the Via Chimica prize for young talents in chemistry
The Via Chimica Prize for 2022 has been won by undergraduate student Roman Bushuiev. The new chemistry prize, which has been established by the Experientia Foundation in cooperation with the Learned Society of the Czech Republic and is open to Czech undergraduate and master’s students, was awarded to Bushuiev for his excellent bachelor’s thesis entitled “Machine-Learning Prediction of Terpene Biosynthesis”. In his thesis, completed at the Department of Applied Mathematics at the Faculty of Information Technology (FIT) of the Czech Technical University in Prague in collaboration with the Institute of Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry of the Czech Academy of Sciences, Bushuiev devised and described an algorithm that can predict biosynthetic reactions. In addition to the prize, the talented young scientist will receive a personal award of CZK 50,000 from the Experientia Foundation.
“We were particularly impressed by the interdisciplinary and innovative nature of Roman Bushuiev’s work, in which he applies the latest machine learning approaches to modelling the function of biosynthetic enzymes and predicting biosynthetic reactions,” explains Prof. Jana Klánová, chair of the joint evaluation committee of the Learned Society of the Czech Republic and the Experientia Foundation. “In his thesis, he designed and tested a combination of neural networks and developed a model predicting the products of biosynthesis directly from the amino acid sequences of enzymes.”
About a quarter of all medicines currently produced come from plants. The main source of chemicals for the development of new medicines are the specialised metabolites that plants produce to increase their fertility or protect themselves against predators. As the chemical synthesis of specialised metabolites is very challenging, the most sustainable way to produce such molecules in the near future will be their biosynthesis in engineered microorganisms.
“In our work, we investigated terpenes, the largest group of specialised metabolites in plants. Understanding the process of terpene biosynthesis is a logical step towards a new era of drug design,” explains Bushuiev, who enjoys applying his computer science expertise to questions in the natural sciences domain. “Sciences such as chemistry and biology are some of the best, maybe even the very best areas for the application of computer science. The fact that I’ve been awarded a prize for chemistry shows that, to some extent, we are able to unlock the mysteries of nature through computer science. And to me that is absolutely fascinating!” he adds.
The winner of the Via Chimica Prize for 2022, Roman Bushuiev, was born in Donetsk, Ukraine, in the year 2000. After graduating from grammar school in Kiev, he moved to the Czech Republic to study in Prague. He is currently in the first year of his Master’s Degree studies in computer science at the Czech Technical University in Prague, majoring in Knowledge Engineering. He also works at the Institute of Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry of the Czech Academy of Sciences in the research group headed by Tomáš Pluskal, and participates in research on the analysis of biosynthetic pathways of specialized metabolites in plants.