AI for Life Sciences successfully hosted its first hackathon event in December 2023 where teams from around the world competed in a virtual coding challenge. Gradient Zero, a leading Vienna-based software company, launched the hackathon series to address the challenges researchers face integrating AI into their work, from data accessibility and quality issues to regulatory compliance and ethical considerations.

AI for Life Sciences connects AI enthusiasts with organizations interested in exploring how to apply AI to use cases in various life sciences domains. Organized and hosted within Austria, the challenge attracted a wide international audience, with participants from 37 countries competing to earn up to $10,000.

The theme for the first challenge was AI for Soil Health. University of Vienna Professor David Berry, PhD, and team members from the university’s Centre for Microbiology and Environmental Systems Science served as the challenge setter for the hackathon, collaborating closely with Gradient Zero’s data scientists to craft the challenge.

In the challenge, participants were asked to go beyond more traditional analytical methods and apply artificial intelligence to gain a deeper understanding of the role of the soil microbiome in contributing to soil health. Participants worked throughout the month-long hackathon to visualize and predict soil biodiversity and its environmental drivers.

“To drive advancements in microbiome research, it is essential to leverage artificial intelligence. By working together with Gradient Zero to set the first AI for Life Sciences challenge, we were able to tap into this potential. The hackathon submissions are licensed under the MIT License, ensuring that the results are open source and can be used for further developments. Our team was impressed to see how this international group of AI enthusiasts tackled the challenge, and we’re looking forward to collaborating on a future challenge.”, said Univ.-Prof. David Berry, PhD.

Prize money totaling $15,000 was generously provided by ML Manna Laaz BeteiligungsgmbH, owned by Hong Kong investor Maggie Luan. This is Manna Laaz’s third investment in Austria – after Intuescope Red and Viennese biotech startup nagene. The grand prize winner is a team of students and alumni from the University of Ibadan and the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. A group of PhD students at UCL Cancer Institute in London took home the second-place prize. A Technical Architect at FLSmidth and a student from the Kyoto University of Advanced Science took home the third-place prize.

The positive reception and success of the inaugural AI for Life Sciences challenge has paved the way for the second edition in 2024, with hundreds of participants from around the globe expected to participate. The recurring format of the challenge series provides a unique platform for interested parties including research institutes, universities, corporations, and startups to set challenges for future coding challenges. The theme of the next hackathon will be revealed at the event kickoff, which is set to take place this spring.