Teaching Bioinformatics on Raspberry Pi

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4273π: Bioinformatics education on low cost ARM hardware (h/t: @OmicsOmicsBlog)

Teaching bioinformatics at universities is complicated by typical computer classroom settings. As well as running software locally and online, students should gain experience of systems administration. For a future career in biology or bioinformatics, the installation of software is a useful skill. We propose that this may be taught by running the course on GNU/Linux running on inexpensive Raspberry Pi computer hardware, for which students may be granted full administrator access.

We release 4273π, an operating system image for Raspberry Pi based on Raspbian Linux. This includes minor customisations for classroom use and includes our Open Access bioinformatics course, 4273π Bioinformatics for Biologists. This is based on the final-year undergraduate module BL4273, run on Raspberry Pi computers at the University of St Andrews, Semester 1, academic year 2012–2013.

4273π is a means to teach bioinformatics, including systems administration tasks, to undergraduates at low cost.

Two important questions:

(i) Do we need a big computer for teaching bioinformatics?

Though far slower than current desktop and laptop computers, the Raspberry Pi is notably faster than the Cray 1 supercomputer [15], a marvel of computer speed in its day. The valid question arises as to how much computer power is actually required to teach undergraduates bioinformatics? We propose that the answer is, by current standards, ‘not much’. The Raspberry Pi is more than adequate for the task. The Raspberry Pi approach includes all the benefits of the laptop approach, above, but at lower cost. In addition, the Raspberry Pi is a new and exciting computer system, which in itself can add interest to the course.

(ii) Can Raspberry Pi be Used for Complex Tasks like Genome Assembly?

Answer is yes.

Many Good Slides at MSU NGS Analysis Workshop

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