ChatNT: A Multimodal Conversational Agent for DNA, RNA and Protein Tasks

Guillaume Richard* | Bernardo P. de Almeida* | Hugo Dalla-Torre | Christopher Blum 1 | Lorenz Hexemer 1 | Priyanka Pandey 1 | Stefan Laurent 1 | Marie Lopez | Alexandre Laterre | Maren Lang 1 | Ugur Sahin 1 | Karim Beguir | Thomas Pierrot

1 BioNTech



Language models are thriving, powering conversational agents that assist and empower humans to solve a number of tasks. Recently, these models were extended to support additional modalities including vision, audio and video, demonstrating impressive capabilities across multiple domains including healthcare. Still, conversational agents remain limited in biology as they cannot yet fully comprehend biological sequences. On the other hand, high-performance foundation models for biological sequences have been built through self-supervision over sequencing data, but these need to be fine-tuned for each specific application, preventing transfer and generalization between tasks. In addition, these models are not conversational which limits their utility to users with coding capabilities. In this paper, we propose to bridge the gap between biology foundation models and conversational agents by introducing ChatNT, the first multi-modal conversational agent with an advanced understanding of biological sequences. ChatNT achieves new state-of-the-art results on the Nucleotide Transformer benchmark while being able to solve all tasks at once, in English, and to generalize to unseen questions. In addition, we have curated a new set of more biologically relevant instructions tasks from DNA, RNA and proteins, spanning multiple species, tissues and biological processes. ChatNT reaches performance on par with state-of-the-art specialized methods on those tasks. We also present a novel perplexity-based technique to help calibrate the confidence of our model predictions. Our framework for genomics instruction-tuning can be easily extended to more tasks and biological data modalities (e.g. structure, imaging), making it a widely applicable tool for biology. ChatNT is the first model of its kind and constitutes an initial step towards building generally capable agents that understand biology from first principles while being accessible to users with no coding background.