Three years ago in 2014 Science Magazine published an article titled "An Explosion Of Bioinformatics Careers" with a message that "Big data is pouring out of life sciences research, creating ample opportunities for scientists with computer science expertise". Ever since bioinformatics remains one of the hottest jobs in life sciences with a very high demand for new talent.

In order to address this issue, Bioinformatics Institute held the first ever Bioinformatics Contest – an intensive programming competition devoted exclusively to bioinformatics problem solving. The contest took place in February 2017 and attracted more than 3000 participants from 86 countries all over the world.

The winners of the Bioinformatics Contest are:
  • 1st place: Gennady Korotkevich (Belarus)
  • 2nd place: Timon Knigge (Switzerland)
  • 3rd place: Ragnar Groot Koerkamp (United Kingdom)
The finals standings are available on http://contest.bioinf.me/standings.

The contest consisted of two online rounds – qualification and finals. In both rounds participants were to solve bioinformatics problems by coding and analyzing data sets. The qualification round lasted for the whole week and consisted of 3 problems (with 14 subproblems). Participants were required to solve certain number of qualification problems to advance to the final round. The final round lasted for 24 hours on February 18, 2017, and consisted of 5 challenging problems (with 27 subproblems).

The problem sets were developed by the team from ITMO University (the only 6-time winner of the world's top programming competition and an alma mater to the most of the top ranked competitive programmers), and were focused on: RNA secondary structure prediction, gene expression counting, chains of chemical transformations occurring in living cells, gene linkage analysis and other topics related to bioinformatics. All the problems remain available by the following link: https://stepik.org/course/Bioinformatics-Contest-2017-945.

Participants identified themselves as computer scientists (40%), bioinformaticians (28%), biologists (12%) and others. Most of participants were interested in solving biological problems by figuring out efficient algorithms and by modeling biological processes.

We do hope that computer scientists and biologists who participated in the event got inspiration to pursue the career in bioinformatics and to become specialists so needed by the modern life sciences.

"Bioinformatics is an emerging field at the intersection of molecular biology, computer science and mathematics. As our knowledge in molecular biology grows, the more access we have to experimental data, the larger these datasets and genetic databases are, the more fine tuned and sophisticated algorithms are needed to analyze them.

I find such contests are extremely useful to attract those people who have the background in the past two but have very little knowledge about biology in general. As a person with Math and CS background, I found truly fascinating how classical graph or string algorithms have revived in this new environment and bioinformatics is also a discipline that uses cutting edge algorithmic techniques in order to cope with the growing size of the problems.

For students these problems could serve as a good demonstration that computational complexity does matter in real life, and sometimes even a linear algorithm is not suitable for a problem. In this contest the participants had the opportunity to implement and optimize the algorithms that actually solve real problems, this is the most important aspect. I really enjoyed it, see you next year! "


Tamás Kurics
Applied mathematician, formerly an assistant professor, currently a data scientist in the industry.