DNA Puzzles Overwhelm Computers

July 12, 2013
Ben Langmead Portrait

Ben Langmead
Photo: Will Kirk/homewoodphoto.jhu.edu

Imagine millions of jigsaw puzzle pieces scattered across a football field, with too few people and too little time available to assemble the picture.

Scientists in the new but fast-growing field of computational genomics are facing a similar dilemma. In recent decades, these researchers have begun to assemble the chemical blueprints of the DNA found in humans, animals, plants and microbes, unlocking a door that will likely lead to better healthcare and greatly expanded life-science knowledge. But a major obstacle now threatens the speedy movement of DNA’s secrets into research labs, two scholars in the field are warning.

This logjam has occurred, the researchers say, because a flood of unassembled genetic data is being produced much faster than current computers can turn it into useful information. That’s the premise of a new article, co-written by a Johns Hopkins bioinformatics expert and published in the July 2013 issue of IEEE Spectrum. The piece, titled “DNA and the Data Deluge,” was co-authored by Michael C. Schatz, an assistant professor of quantitative biology at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, in New York state; and Ben Langmead, an assistant professor of computer science in Johns Hopkins’ Whiting School of Engineering.

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