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The Boston Globe


Thorny research problems, solved by crowdsourcing

Faced with a tough data­ analysis challenge as he struggled to answer questions about how the immune system works, Dr. Ramy Arnaout of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center took an unusual step. He went beyond his circle of Harvard colleagues and beyond the expertise of fellow biologists; he turned to software programmers scattered around the world who had little expertise in the life sciences.

The result: A deeply biological problem — analyzing the makeup of genes that produce proteins involved in the immune system’s ability to identify microbes — could be rapidly and efficiently answered by a community of more than 400,000 computer programmers who try to solve competitive coding challenges posted on TopCoder, a platform used by big companies such as Google, Intel, and Facebook.

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