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DTRA, InnoCentive Name Pathogen Detection $1M Contest Winner

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – The US military's Defense Threat Reduction Agency has awarded a $1 million prize to a group of scientists who developed an algorithm that can enable rapid and accurate characterization of a clinical pathogen sample from raw DNA sequence data, challenge partner InnoCentive said today.

The challenge, managed by the DTRA/US STRATCOM Center for Combating Weapons of Mass Destruction, used InnoCentive's crowdsourcing platform, the Waltham, Mass.-based company said today.

The goal of the challenge was to create an algorithm that could be used to help identify quickly and accurately a pathogen simply based on a DNA sample. This algorithm will eventually be developed into a solution to identify and characterize unknown viral and bacterial pathogens, and enable physicians to target antibiotics and make better informed treatment decisions, InnoCentive said.

The winning team (Team Huson) consisted of investigators from Germany and Singapore, including University of Tubingen Professor Daniel Huson and graduate student Benjamin Buchfink, and Singapore's Xie Chao.

InnoCentive said the winning team's solution reduced the time it takes to identify pathogens from as much as weeks to "tens of minutes," and it can be performed in the field.

DTRA has tasked a technical team with refining the winning solution, and it plans to publish a technical paper discussing the creation, execution, and results of the challenge.

Christian Whitchurch, branch manager for DTRA's Diagnostics, Detection, and Disease Surveillance Division, said in a statement that because the project was open to scientists from all nationalities a larger community than normal joined in the competition.

"Team Huson's algorithm will lead to an enhancement in DTRA's current capability to diagnose and treat bio-threats in a shorter time frame and support life-saving interventions," Whitchurch said.