Take the Intelligent Design Challenge!

Determining where a genome has been produced or altered by an intelligent designer is a matter of some importance. Consider the claims that the HIV virus was engineered as a biowarfare weapon, or the concern that virulence genes from other organisms could be inserted into viruses and bacteria to “weaponise” them. For example the engineered mouse pox virus that turned lethal (Nature. 2001 May 17;411(6835):232-5 see also Nat Genet. 2001 Nov;29(3):253-6) and limits on the sequencing of the 1918 strain of the flu to stop flu from being weaponised (Fed Regist. 2005 Oct 20;70(202):61047-9,). A method that could reliably detect the action of human intelligent design in the genomes of microorganisms would be of significant advantage.

Thus we issue the “Intelligent Design Challenge”. Below the fold are 6 gene sequences. At least one of them has been produced by a human designer. All you have to do is to determine which one(s) have been acted on, what the designed sequence does, and explain the method you used to determine this (in sufficient detail to replicate your determination eg. if you used an approximation of Chaitin information, a brief description of the algorithm you used).

I’ve re-written the contest rules slightly as some people were confused as to what designer they were supposed to detect.

To win, you have to:

1) Identify which sequences have been produced by a human designer
2) Describe how you identified the sequence as being designed (eg. I used PKZip to compress the sequences as an approximation of Chaitin information and ordered the output according to the following criteria etc. etc.)
3) Describe what the sequence does (eg. “This is the active site of a triose phosphate isomerise engineered into a riboprotein – this due to the catalytic triad signature” real example BTW: this isn’t as hard as it sounds once you have the designed sequences)

Obviously, the groups who produced these sequences are not eligible to enter, and if you walked down the corridor and asked the groups who produced these sequences what they did, you are also not eligible. You need to have done some actual work related to the sequences presented here. Simply looking up all journal references to “designed sequences” in Pubmed doesn’t count (obviously this is all public domain, I’m not going to release the engineered killer mousepox virus sequence am I).

If you are in an emergency ward, trying to discover if the superflu screaming through the population is a bioweapon, you won’t find the answer that way. And you won’t have the luxury of having a full viral sequence to BLAST against known genes [thus discovering that the M2 ion channel had been replaced with the amandatine-insensitive Vpu ion channel, so that your antiviral drugs won’t work], but short sequences like the ones above.

Remember, in a real biowarfare situation, everyone will be short of time and resources. A simple, reliable procedure to determine if a sequence has been human-engineered is of the utmost importance.

So, in the spirit of the Robot Soccer Challenge and the NASA Spacecraft Challenge, look at the sequences below the fold and off you go.

The first successful determination of the designed sequence(s) and their function will win a copy of OpenLab 2007.

Comments will be will be opened for your entries at 10:30 pm Australian Central Daylight Saving Time (GMT +10:30), 1 February.

The comments are now live, write in your entries. The first correct answer fulfilling the conditions will receive a copy of OpenLab 2007. As tonight is my sons’ birthday, and I have an occultation to observe as well, don’t expect much input from me for a while.

Sequence 1: attatcacaa aatggtgtga tcttatcaat agcactactt gcttaactag ctaatgtcgt gcaattggag tagagaacac agaacgatta actagctaat ttttttagtt ggatggcaat tgttggaatt cacagctttt tagttggaat tttagttaat catcaaacac ttaaaataag taaaaagtat gttattttag gttcgatttt tccaattatg gcattaacaa atactcttgt

Sequence 2: gatagtagtg ggtggaatag tgaagaaaac gaagctaaaa gtgatgcgcc cctaagtaca ggagggggtg cttcttctgg aacatttaat aaatacctca acaccaagca agcgttagag agcatcggca tcttgtttga tggggatgga atgaggaatg tggttaccca actctattat gcttctacca gcaagctagc agtcaccaac aaccacattg tcgtgatggg taacagcttt

Sequence 3: attatcacaa aatggtgtga tcttatcaat agcactactt gcttttttta gttggatggc aattgttgga attcacagct ttttagttgg aattttagtt aatcatcaaa cacttaaaat aagtaaaaag tatgttattt taggttcgat ttttccaatt atggcattaa caaatactct tgtaattaga aaaaaattaa aagctttatt aggagagggt aaggttcaaa aaggactcaa

Sequence 4: agtagtgggt ggaatagtgt taactagcta agtagaaaac accgaacgaa ttaattctac gattaccgtg actgagttaa ctagctaaaa gaaaacgaag ctaaaagtga tgcgccccta agtacaggag ggggtgcttc ttctggaaca tttaataaat acctcaacac caagcaagcg ttagagagca tcggcatctt gtttgatggg gatggaatga ggaatgtggt tacccaactc

Sequence 5: ttttatttgt ttaatagtta aaaaaagcgt taactagcta atgcataaac gacatcgcta atgactgtct ttatgatgaa ttaactagct aatgggtcga tgtttgatgt tatggagcag caacgatgtt acgcagcagg gcagtcgccc taaaacaaag ttaaacatca tgttatgttt tatctatttt attagttaaa aaagttttga atttttatct atttttagtt aataaaagtc

Sequence 6: ggagggagat catcagatca aagtaataaa ttcaccaagt acctcaacac caagcaagca ttggaaagga tcggcatctt gtttgatggg gatggaatga ggaatgtggt tacccaactc taccaaccca acaaggtgaa aagtggtcaa tatcaacaaa ataacaccta caacaggtta attgagcctg acaatgcaac aagtgcagcg agcagcatga ccagcttgtt aaagctgttg