University of Washington biochemists David Baker and Neil King show off molecular models of proteins at UW’s Institute for Protein Design. (UW IPD Photo / Ian Haydon) The era of engineering proteins for medical applications just got a lot closer, thanks to a five-year, $45 million grant from at TED to the at the University of Washington School of Medicine. The institute, headed by UW biochemist , is among eight recipients of Audacious grants announced today at the annual TED conference in Vancouver, B.C. “We’re really thinking of this as a protein design revolution, parallel to the digital revolution at Bell Labs. … If you can design proteins exactly to order from first principles, you can solve a lot of problems that are facing humans today — primarily in medicine, but also in materials and energy,” Baker told GeekWire. Among the potential products are a , , smart proteins capable of or the out-of-control cells that cause , potential and self-assembling proteins for or . “They are things that we’ve been thinking about for a while, and are starting to work toward,” said Neil King, who leads the institute’s vaccine design efforts. “We’re really excited by the opportunity that’s opening up here because of this additional funding, to scale up and focus our efforts toward solving these ‘grand challenge’ problems.” That fits right in with the mission of The Audacious Project, which was launched by TED’s organizers last year with support from The Bridgespan Group. The project pulls together philanthropic funds from a variety of contributors — including the Skoll Foundation, Virgin Unite and the Dalio Foundation — and distributes the money to boost bold ideas. The five-year grant adds to funding that the institute receives from the likes of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the National Institutes of Health. Right now, the institute has about 100 people on its staff, “and we are going to be ramping that number up considerably,” Baker said. Baker’s reference to Bell Labs — which pioneered innovations ranging from transistors and lasers to radio astronomy and photovoltaic cells in the mid-20th century — isn’t merely a historical allusion. He sees Bell Labs as the model for what he wants to do with the Institute for Protein Design, and expects to collaborate with other research institutions in the Seattle area and around the world. “We want to build dream teams for all of these areas,” Baker said. “Coming back to the Bell Labs analogy, an important part of this is recruiting. We’re really excited about attracting people at all levels, ranging from visiting students to graduate students to postdoctoral fellows to people later in their careers to faculty.” One of the priorities will be to upgrade the institute’s Rosetta protein design software, which has spawned a citizen-science program called Rosetta at Home as well as a . “We’re incredibly indebted to the Rosetta at Home participants who have really contributed a huge amount to our efforts through the donation of spare cycles on their computers,” Baker said. “In fact, we will be even more dependent on them as we scale up and have more designs to test.” The extra funding should raise the game to another level for Foldit’s puzzle-solving players, who are already designing virtual proteins from scratch. Baker and King say they’ll be raising their game as well. “We’re looking at this as a catalytic event,” King said. “This influx of resources and talent … is going to take us up a level, but it’s not a perpetual funding source. Once we take that step or two up, we’ll have to continue to attract traditional funding, or maybe alternative forms of funding, to keep things going at that higher level.” So when will The Audacious Project’s $45 million bet pay off? How long will it be before the institute has a universal flu vaccine ready for testing? “I think single-digit years,” King said. “Not double-digit years.” This year’s eight Audacious projects were chosen from more than 1,500 applications. The financial commitments made to the eight projects over the next five years add up to more than half a billion dollars, said Chris Anderson, curator of TED Conferences. The other seven 2019 Audacious projects include: Center for Policing Equity, which plans to use data capture technology to bring measurable behavior changes to police departments that collectively serve 100 million people a year — approximately one in three Americans — by 2024. Educate Girls, which is partnering with 35,000 village-based volunteers to address collective mindsets and persuade parents and elders in remote, rural communities of India to register all out-of-school girls for school and support them so that they stay enrolled. The Salk Institute for Biological Studies, which aims to improve the ability of plants to capture and store carbon in their roots in a long-lived molecule calledsuberin — better known as cork. The END Fund, which proposes to bring deworming treatment to 100 million people and support partnerships to increase access to clean water, sanitation and hygiene education. The Nature Conservancy, which intends to protect 4 million square kilometers of the ocean over the next five years by buying up the of debt of 20 island and coastal nations — in exchange for governmental commitments to use the savings to protect at least 30% of their marine areas. Thorn, which seeks to eliminate child sexual abuse material from the internet by empowering those on the front lines with the technology and data they need to find children faster, and end the circulation of violent abuse content before it starts. Waterford UPSTART, which hopes to provide access to early education to 250,000 children across the country. Waterford UPSTART empowers parents through proactive family coaching and provides personalized learning for every child, preparing them for kindergarten.
The first 737 MAX 8 plane undergoes final assembly at Boeing’s Renton plant in 2015. (Boeing Photo) Boeing will reduce its monthly production rate for its single-aisle 737 jets from 52 to 42, starting in mid-April, CEO Dennis Muilenburg said today. In a statement, Muilenburg said he’s also asked the company’s board of directors to establish an internal committee to review Boeing’s policies and processes for airplane design and development. The moves come in the wake of this week’s preliminary findings from an investigation into the March 10 crash of an Ethiopian Airlines 737 MAX 8 plane that killed all 157 people on board. Less than five months earlier, a similar Lion Air 737 MAX crash in Indonesia killed 189 people. Those two incidents led to a worldwide suspension in 737 MAX flights. Both crashes were traced to the improper activation of an automated flight control system known as the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System, or MCAS. The system, which was added to the 737 MAX to safeguard against stalls, relied on data inputs from a single angle-of-attack sensor — and in both cases, there were indications that the sensor was providing spurious data. The MCAS problems have in turn raised questions about the process by which the 737 MAX, the latest incarnation of a 51-year-old narrowbody design, was . The U.S. Department of Transportation and the Justice Department are conducting separate investigations into that process, which has also been the subject of congressional hearings. Boeing manufactures its 737 MAX 8 and 9 planes — as well as an earlier model known as the 737NG — at its plant in Renton, Wash. Muilenburg said the temporary reduction in the production rate would not affect employment levels. At one time, Boeing had planned to by the end of this year. Here’s : “As we work closely with customers and global regulators to return the 737 MAX to service, we continue to be driven by our enduring values, with a focus on safety, integrity and quality in all we do. “We now know that the recent Lion Air Flight 610 and Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 accidents were caused by a chain of events, with a common chain link being erroneous activation of the aircraft’s MCAS function. We have the responsibility to eliminate this risk, and we know how to do it. As part of this effort, we’re making progress on the 737 MAX software update that will prevent accidents like these from ever happening again. Teams are working tirelessly, advancing and testing the software, conducting non-advocate reviews, and engaging regulators and customers worldwide as we proceed to final certification. I recently had the opportunity to experience the software update performing safely in action during a 737 MAX 7 demo flight. We’re also finalizing new pilot training courses and supplementary educational material for our global MAX customers. This progress is the result of our comprehensive, disciplined approach and taking the time necessary to get it right. “As we continue to work through these steps, we’re adjusting the 737 production system temporarily to accommodate the pause in MAX deliveries, allowing us to prioritize additional resources to focus on software certification and returning the MAX to flight. We have decided to temporarily move from a production rate of 52 airplanes per month to 42 airplanes per month starting in mid-April. “At a production rate of 42 airplanes per month, the 737 program and related production teams will maintain their current employment levels while we continue to invest in the broader health and quality of our production system and supply chain. “We are coordinating closely with our customers as we work through plans to mitigate the impact of this adjustment. We will also work directly with our suppliers on their production plans to minimize operational disruption and financial impact of the production rate change. “In light of our commitment to continuous improvement and our determination to always make a safe industry even safer, I’ve asked the Boeing Board of Directors to establish a committee to review our company-wide policies and processes for the design and development of the airplanes we build. The committee will confirm the effectiveness of our policies and processes for assuring the highest level of safety on the 737-MAX program, as well as our other airplane programs, and recommend improvements to our policies and procedures. “The committee members will be Adm. Edmund P. Giambastiani, Jr., (Ret.), former vice chairman, U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, who will serve as the committee’s chair; Robert A. Bradway, chairman and CEO of Amgen, Inc.; Lynn J. Good, chairman, president and CEO of the Duke Energy Corporation; and Edward M. Liddy, former chairman and CEO of the Allstate Corporation, all members of the company’s board. These individuals have been selected to serve on this committee because of their collective and extensive experiences that include leadership roles in corporate, regulated industries and government entities where safety and the safety of lives is paramount. “Safety is our responsibility, and we own it. When the MAX returns to the skies, we’ve promised our airline customers and their passengers and crews that it will be as safe as any airplane ever to fly. Our continued disciplined approach is the right decision for our employees, customers, supplier partners and other stakeholders as we work with global regulators and customers to return the 737 MAX fleet to service and deliver on our commitments to all of our stakeholders.”