Reflections on the DNA60IFX bioinformatics challenge

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To commemorate 60 years of the double helix, Genome Biology ran a special 'DNA60IFX' bioinformatics challenge, inspired by the annual contests held at our Beyond The Genome conferences.

Several hundred eager participants had a stab at the first stage of the challenge, which was whittled down to a final set of 24 battle-hardy bioinformaticians who were able to provide us with the correct answer to the final, fifth problem in the three hours before we announced the winners (and answers).

Well, I say bioinformaticians, but some contestants had in fact attempted the competition with no prior knowledge of bioinformatics, including the runner-up Kevin Wang, a physics undergrad. And for us, this speaks to one of the highlights of opening up a bioinformatics challenge to all comers – a change from the captive audience at Beyond The Genome – in that biology novices were able to learn about genomics, and perhaps discover a newfound interest in the discipline.

Sven-Eric Schelhorn - our winner

Kevin was pipped to the post by Sven-Eric Schelhorn, whose correct answer to the final stage arrived in the DNA60IFX inbox just a few seconds ahead. Sven-Eric has kindly provided us with some reflections on the challenge, including details of his winning strategy – and a realization, moments after sending in his solution, that he had missed a major time-saving trick.

Sven-Eric's reflections are accompanied by those of our curators, Mike Schatz and James Taylor (Spoiler alert! also includes full solutions).

Although there are no longer any prizes at stake, the challenge remains available in full for anyone wishing to test their bioinformatics mettle. Can you beat Sven-Eric's winning final-stage time of 19 minutes?

For more on our DNA60 coverage, see our earlier blog post or our article collection, including an interesting update on the story of Photo 51. We also blogged about the DNA60IFX challenge build up here and here.