Bioinformatics, the emerging field that uses software to analyze vast amounts of biological data, is also accessible in the classroom. Bioinformatics as a whole also lends itself well to remote learning, as it relies so heavily on software.
BLAST (Basic Local Alignment Search Tool) is a platform that allows students to identify and compare genetic sequences. The software combs through a massive bank of “known” sequences, much like a search engine, and generates a list of likely matches. It can also compare two sequences and identify areas where they are identical and where they differ. This second process is useful for finding a mutation or locating SNPs. BLAST can also be used to compare and contrast proteins.
The ABE Program Office created a 2-minute tutorial for students on the basic use of BLAST. Try providing students with some “mystery” sequences (such as this readout of the SARS-CoV-2 genome or this readout of the Ebola virus genome) and asking students to use the software to identify them.