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Salk Institute uses AI tool to help fight climate change

Posted at 7:49 PM, May 22, 2024

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) — At the Salk Institute in La Jolla, an AI tool called SLEAP is turning motion into information.

"SLEAP stands for Social LEAP Estimates Animal Poses," said Talmo Pereira, a Salk Institute Fellow who developed the program.

Despite the name, one of SLEAP's uses is helping design plants to fight climate change.

"To help us design genetic interventions to make plants better in storing more carbon for longer," said Wolfgang Busch, a Salk Institute Professor. "So that they build more roots. More roots means more carbon. Put these roots deeper in the ground, because that means the carbon will be stored there for a long time."

Busch says SLEAP condenses months of work into minutes, so it's easier for scientists to modify everyday plants to absorb more carbon dioxide.

"That is exactly the impact that we need, as soon as possible, to avoid the consequences of climate change," said Busch.

Researchers also want to use SLEAP to predict diseases like ALS and cancer, by looking at movements too small to notice with a human eye.

"We can then use more machine learning and AI techniques to extract patterns," said Pereira. "They can tell us the likelihood that you might be experiencing a particular disease, how far along it is, and what parts of the body might be implicated."

So in the future, researchers hope AI can help fight climate change, cancer and more.

"It's a tool that helps give you one more perspective," said Pereira. "And we're working hard to make sure that perspective is as fair, equitable and accurate as possible."

Pereira says SLEAP may be just a few years away from helping identity and diagnose diseases.