Cracking the Code: The Cambridge and Antwerp Bioinformatics Three-Day Hackathon

25 October, 2023

Cracking the Code: The Cambridge and Antwerp Bioinformatics Three-Day Hackathon

Cracking the Code: The Cambridge and Antwerp Bioinformatics Three-Day Hackathon

Co-authors Jo Montgomery, Simon Andrews (with a helping hand from ChatGPT)


In the ever-evolving field of biology, scientists are constantly seeking innovative ways to unravel the mysteries of life. Bioinformatics, the interdisciplinary field that combines biology and computer science, has emerged as a powerful tool in this endeavour. To foster collaboration and innovation in bioinformatics, the University of Cambridge and the University of Antwerp came together to sponsor a three-day bioinformatics hackathon that brought scientists from academia and industry together. This event showcased the potential of interdisciplinary collaboration in solving complex biological problems using computers.

#CamBioHack, the Bioinformatics Hackathon organised by the Bioinformatics team at the Babraham Institute, has taken place in Cambridge since 2017, and this year we were delighted to offer a joint event with the Flanders Institute for Biotechnology (VIB) and the University of Antwerp. After a successful online event in 2020, this year the hackathon took place in person in Antwerp and Cambridge simultaneously with online working allowing teamwork across the channel! Enormous thanks go to our sponsors, Oxford Nanopore Technologies, the Babraham Institute, the University of Cambridge, VIB and the University of Antwerp for helping us to make this happen.

Join us as we explore a condensed version of this exciting event, where brilliant minds from around the world converge to decode the secrets of the genome and more, in just three days.

Researchers in Antwerp at the CamBioHackathon

Bringing minds together

The hackathon kicked off on a bright morning at both the University of Cambridge and the University of Antwerp. Participants from diverse academic backgrounds, including computational biology, genetics, and data science, gathered with a common goal: to leverage their expertise and computational skills to address pressing biological questions. The event's dual-site setup allowed for seamless international collaboration, emphasising the importance of a global perspective in tackling complex problems.

Hacking towards solutions

With limited time at their disposal, participants formed small multidisciplinary teams spanning both sites and delved into the heart of the hackathon: problem-solving. They were presented with a range of biological challenges, from genomics to proteomics, and were encouraged to choose the one that resonated most with their interests and expertise.

Working tirelessly, the teams used bioinformatics tools and computational algorithms to analyse complex biological data. The atmosphere was electric with creativity, as participants brainstormed, coded, and debugged their way towards innovative solutions. Collaborative discussions and knowledge exchange between the two sites created a synergy that enriched the entire event.

Presenting solutions and the future of bioinformatics

Researchers in Cambridge at the CamBioHackathon

The final afternoon of the hackathon was dedicated to showcasing the results of each team's efforts. With presentations and summary slides, participants shared their insights and solutions to the biological challenges they had tackled, highlighting their innovative approaches, insights gained and the potential applications and impact of their work on the field of biology. Peer judges evaluated the projects based on their scientific inspiration, creativity, and real-world applicability.

The diversity of projects was astounding. Some teams developed new algorithms for identifying disease-related genetic markers, while others created user-friendly bioinformatics tools to assist biologists in their research.

The hackathon successfully fostered collaboration between scientists from academia and industry, emphasising that the boundaries between these two sectors are increasingly becoming fluid.

All 19 projects from the hackathon will be published in F1000Research and all code provided as open source.

Benefits of the Bioinformatics Hackathon

  1. Collaboration: The hackathon harnesses the expertise of people from different backgrounds, encouraging the exchange of ideas and fostering lasting collaborations between academia and industry.
  2. Innovation: Participants are challenged to think outside the box, pushing the boundaries of what is possible in bioinformatics and computational biology.
  3. Skill development: The hackathon provides a platform for participants to enhance their coding, data analysis, and problem-solving skills, thereby advancing their careers in the field.
  4. Problem solving: Real-world biological problems are addressed, potentially leading to breakthroughs in drug discovery, disease understanding, and environmental conservation.
  5. Networking: Participants have the opportunity to network with experts and peers of different career stages, creating a supportive and vibrant bioinformatics community.


The hackathon demonstrated the power of interdisciplinary and international collaboration, as teams merged biology and computer science to yield ground-breaking results.

It transcended borders and united scientists from academia and industry in a quest to harness the power of computers to solve complex biological problems. This event is not just about lines of code; it's about the lines of communication, the bonds formed, and the collective knowledge shared, ultimately advancing our understanding of the natural world. As we look to the future of biology, such collaborative endeavours will continue to be the driving force behind transformative discoveries.



In the spirit of treating this as a computational challenge we decided to get ChatGPT to help write the blog post! (AI isn’t taking our jobs just yet; it did require quite a bit of editing and rewriting, although we’ve left in some of ChatGPT’s hyperbole and enthusiasm!)