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Feature Articles : Mar 1, 2010 (Vol. 30, No. 5)

GEN's RNAi Cryptogram Decoded

Cell Culture Specialist Wins $1,500 and Invitrogen’s Countess™ Automated Cell Counter

A researcher at a company that develops, manufactures, and distributes cell culture media and molecular biology reagents has solved the first version of “GEN's Cryptogram Challenge: RNAi.” It took him only 10 hours to come up with the answer: Wily siRNA quenches gene.

Jason Jens is senior R&D associate scientist at Mediatech in Manassas, VA. A graduate of Michigan State University, he received two Bachelor of Science degrees from that institution (one in biology and molecular biology, and the other in microbiology and molecular genetics).

GEN, along with partner Scintellix, LLC and sponsor Invitrogen, part of Life Technologies, congratulate Jens for finding the answer to the transfection-focused cryptogram, which featured a 96-well plate image that depicted siRNA’s control of gene expression to illustrate the variability of cellular responses.

(As GEN went to press, Cryptogram Challenge RNAi-2 appeared on our website).

Jens, who won a $1,500 cash prize and chose Invitrogen’s Countess™ automated cell counter for solving the puzzle, told GEN that he has experience doing cryptograms in newspapers, “but I never really tackled anything like this. I am much more of a Sudoku guy.”

He said he immediately understood that transparencies in the PowerPoint were the first step. “I opened the PowerPoint and essentially copied all the transparencies manually into a Microsoft Excel file.”

Although Jens has not worked with RNAi, he noted that he is quite proficient at microscopic cellular analysis.

“That really came in handy to accelerate some of the trial and error that I was doing. I was able to get away with just kind of thumbing through some possibilities in Excel,”  he continued.

Jens said that the two clues provided were essential in helping him solve the Cryptogram. One clue was to look at an Invitrogen product webpage and the second clue stated that the answer contained four words.

“So I knew that there was a lot of data that was useless. I had to rationally reduce the dataset that was available. I think you would be hard-pressed to put together four words using 96 letters,” he said.

Jens used the clues to come up with the word “quenches” as part of the answer.

“Then, since I had everything set up in Excel, I could kind of rocket through a lot of the permutations and just give the 96-well plate a once-over to see if anything was making sense,” he said. “As a result, I was able to figure out the rest of the answer.”

Peter C. Johnson, M.D., president and CEO of Scintellix, LLC, is the creator of the “Cryptogram Challenge: RNAi,” as well as the “Microarray Challenge,” based on the MicroArray (2008) image. He is the author of multiple graphic arts books, scientific books, and manuscripts in the fields of thrombosis and tissue engineering. Dr. Johnson also created GEN's “Cryptogram Challenge,” based on the 96-Well (2009) ELISA plate image and the "Cryptogram Challenge: ELISA Redux."

"The RNAi Challenge was primarily designed to test the ability of a solver to identify and leverage the clue on the Invitrogen webpage. To his great credit, Jens did this rapidly and accurately," says Dr. Johnson.

“He was then able to determine how this clue functioned as a key in the interpretation of the information in the Cryptogram image. Now, the RNAi-2 Challenge is available for solution. While similar in its general appearance and while it also leverages the website for a clue, it takes the solution to a new level— one that should excite Jens and others to seek the answer.”

While trying to solve the Challenge, Jens pointed out that he took a lot of flack from his wife who “seemed to come in every couple of hours to ask  ‘Are you really going to continue to ignore your daughter?’”

The fact that he won the $1,500 Challenge prize should keep him “out of his wife’s doghouse,” he said. And his boss “ will be absolutely delighted with having Invitrogen’s Countess in the lab,” he added.   

“We are glad that Jason and his colleagues can now improve cell-counting efficiency and consistency with the Countess automated cell counter and save a lot of time for more experiments,” said Wenlan Hu, market development manager at Life Technologies.