BitTorrent file sharing for biologists

Peer to peer file-sharing systems like BitTorrent have given the entertainment industry heartburn in recent years as people use them to share music, movies and tv shows. But peer to peer file-sharing can also allow scientists who are increasingly dependent on huge sets of data to quickly share and access their results.

For example, right now biologists download genome data from central databases such as the National Center for Biotechnology Information. Those files are big, and if traffic is heavy the process slows down.

Postdoc Morgan Langille and Professor Jonathan Eisen at the UC Davis Genome Center have launched a new file-sharing site, BioTorrents.  Like BitTorrent, BioTorrent splits large files into smaller pieces and shares them across the computers of all the users in the system. When a user requests a file, she may be assembling pieces of it from multiple computers spread across the network — as well as sharing it with other users who have requested it at the same time.

Instead of bogging down with more users, Torrent systems get faster as more users join, because the load is spread across more computers.

More about BioTorrents from Janet Fang’s blog at Nature and from Genomeweb.

A paper about the project was published today in the journal Public Library of Science (PLoS) ONE.

Morgan Langille interviews himself about BioTorrents.

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