DNA sequencing is complex, and teaching students how it works can be quite a challenge. It often helps to use analogies, and give real life examples people are familiar with. At the University of Toronto they have found the perfect analogy to explain how DNA sequencing works: BitTorrent.
A growing number of Internet users know that BitTorrent is a great tool to download large files such as movies and music albums. While BitTorrent itself is based on economic principles, only a few know that it can also be used in biology class, since it’s a great analogy for DNA sequencing.
In a course on ‘Organisms in their Environment’ taught by Prof John Stinchcombe at the University of Toronto, this resemblance is used to help students to understand this complex matter. One of Stinchcombe’s students told TorrentFreak that he was “pleasantly surprised” when he saw BitTorrent being linked to his course material, and shared the slides with us.
Similar to BitTorrent, the first step is to chop the material into small pieces (with enzymes). After that, all the pieces are put back together again with computer algorithms, thereby reconstructing the DNA. Similarly, with BitTorrent the pieces are also put back together again, reassembling the file that’s being shared.
The whole analogy is of course a little oversimplified, but it did at least grab the attention of some of the more tech savvy students. The slide at the bottom of the post is the one that Prof John Stinchcombe used to compare DNA sequencing to an “everyday life” example, with The Pirate Bay as one of its applications.
Is this news? Hardly. But, perhaps more than anything, it shows how mainstream BitTorrent has become recently.
DNA sequencing vs. BitTorrent