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February 01, 2009 (Vol. 29, No. 3)

GEN’s MicroArray Challenge Solved

IDT Engineers Follow the Clues to Take Home the $1,500 Prize

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    Owen Piette (left) and Ryan Witt (right), scientists from Integrated DNA Technologies, were the winners of GEN's Microarray Challenge contest.

    Two scientists from Integrated DNA Technologies (IDT) successfully solved GEN’s online MicroArray Challenge. Owen Piette, electrical engineer III, and Ryan Witt, system engineer I, shared the winner’s prize of $1,500.

    The hidden message of the MicroArray Challenge (MC), which ran from the middle of November through the end of December, was: “In the beginning was the code.”

    The IDT scientists, who used a poster of the MC in the company’s cafeteria to work on over lunch, agreed that the seventh and last clue to solving the puzzle was the one that allowed them to make some headway. The seventh clue was: “In the triplet code, three adjacent dots code for each letter, which should be placed at the site of the center dot. Words are created from abutting triplet-coded letters. The code for the letter ‘e’ is ‘yellow green green’ and the code for the letter ‘n’ is ‘green red green.’”

    Peter C. Johnson, M.D., artist, and president and CEO of Scintellix, created the MC and embedded a cipher (algorithm for performing encryption and decryption) based on the dots in the pastel. The image used in the MC also appears in part on the cover of Dr. Johnson’s poetry collection (also known as MicroArray, Scintellix Publishing, 2008).

    "I conceived of using the pastel painting, MicroArray, to convey a cryptogram, because at the time I painted it (in 2001), I was reading Simon Singh’s The Code Book that discusses the history and methods of cryptography,” notes Dr. Johnson. “When I painted MicroArray, the field of bioinformatics was just beginning to accelerate. Since it was essentially a code-breaking science I thought it would be interesting to exemplify the role of the gene-expression microarray as a manifestation of the code of life that demanded to be deciphered.”