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DoD Dangles $1M Prize for Swift Pathogen Detection Algorithm

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – The US Department of Defense is launching a competition that will provide $1 million to individuals or teams that develop an algorithm for swiftly and accurately characterizing clinical pathogen samples based only on raw DNA sequence data.

Run by the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) and the US STRATCOM Center for Combating Weapons of Mass Destruction, this challenge was created to spur development of fast new methods for identifying pathogens in complex mixtures from clinical samples.
More broadly, DoD hopes that DNA sequencing and analysis technologies will enable it to diagnose a range of pathogenic threats in the field or in areas with low resources. The department is particularly concerned that enemies of the US might turn to bioweapons and bioterrorism as a more means of attack than nuclear weapons.

"DTRA believes an open innovation development strategy is most likely to quickly yield a set of disruptive solutions to the threats posed by known, emerging, or engineered pathogens," Christian Whitchurch, devices branch manager for DTRA's Diagnostics, Detection, and Disease Surveillance Division, said in a statement

The winner of the challenge will provide an algorithm that can assess the DNA sequence data provided, however complete or limited it is, provide the best possible characterization of the sample, identify and quantify all of the sample's components, and speculate when positive identification is not possible. The algorithm also would offer recommendations for further analysis, would not require that its users be experts, would require little overhead, and would be fast.

More details on the competition and the sequencing datasets will be made available in January, 2013.

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