NCBI Hackathons Hit 25 and Celebrate with Bacon, Disco, and More

Let us explain.

MR BACOn logo features a cartoon pig head

MR BACOn: Mendelian Randomization with Biomarker Associations for Causality with Outcomes

You don’t have to have grown up in the ’70s to have danced disco and eaten bacon regularly, but to have developed DrugDisco or created MR BACOn, you must have participated in an NCBI hackathon.

DrugDisco is a high throughput automated drug discovery pipeline and MR BACOn is otherwise known as a Mendelian Randomization analysis of Biomarker Associations for Causality with Outcomes.

Creative titles, collaboration, and the courage to try new strategies—all while being transparent—are hallmarks of hackathons…NCBI style.

Since their debut on the NIH campus in January 2015, NCBI has been involved in 25 hackathons.

NCBI hackathons surpass expectations

Hackathons are events for computational biologists, computer programmers, and other professionals to collaborate on software projects. Typically, the events fill three days. Unlike other hackathons in which teams compete to come up with a winning solution to a problem, NCBI-style hackathons are collaborative. Each team tackles a different problem, and teams often help each other and share expertise.

The growth, interest, and results of the NCBI hackathons have surpassed expectations, according to Ben Busby, the center’s genomics outreach coordinator and hackathon organizer.

No two are alike

two cartoon pills with smiling faces dance to disco music

DrugDisco, a product of an NCBI hackathon, makes trial-and-error drug discovery a thing of the past by using a rational and structure-based approach.

NCBI’s hackathons have been held at academic institutions throughout the United States, as well as on the NIH campus in Bethesda.

Each group is different. An all-woman team tackled metadata collection and harmonization, a challenging topic because metadata on biomedical projects is often variable, inconsistent, and incomplete.

In addition to fancy prototypes, groups have also built tools for educators. These tools include SeqAcademy and SpoonFedNanopore.

NCBI has also been a community partner in several other hackathons, including the Bio-IT World FAIR Data hackathon and patient-centered hackathons run by SVAI.

Getting involved

Since you hacked. . .

Thinking about participating in an NCBI hackathon?

First, learn more about them, including the upcoming schedule of events.

Then, if you’re still interested, drop an email to Ben Busby or Allissa Dillman for more information.

Acceptance to participate in the hackathons is often competitive. Those at NIH typically have about 100 applications for 35 slots.

People have come from down the street and around the world to participate. NCBI does not only recruit data scientists; librarians also participate.

“We’ve built a community,” says Busby. “Projects are building off one another. We’re getting a critical mass of computational data scientists interested in these software products.”

Collaborations often continue even after the three-day event ends, and a number of published papers have resulted from the work. If this sounds like something you’d like to do, Busby says, “Please come join us!”

So how will you celebrate NCBI’s milestone of 25 hackathons?

Here at NLM in Focus, we’re celebrating by sizzling up the bacon and grooving to the sounds of Donna Summer.

Hey, don’t judge us. Just dance.

By Kathryn McKay, editor of NLM in Focus

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