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Computational Biology

A back-of-the-envelope approach to problems from RNA folding to Darwin's evolutionary tree.

Computational biology merges the algorithmic thinking of the computer scientist with the problem solving approach of physics to address the problems of biology. Since the year 2000, an ocean of sequencing data has emerged that allows us to ask new questions.

Here we'll develop intuition for a selection of foundational problems in computational biology like genome reconstruction, sequence alignment, and building phylogenetic trees to look at evolutionary relationships. We also address certain physicochemical problems of molecular biology like RNA folding.



Concepts and

  1. 1

    Biological Numeracy

    Get to know biology by the numbers through these guided explorations of information and structure.

    1. What is Life?

      Get to know the guiding light of this course: life evolves in a discrete and quantifiable way.

    2. DNA Fingerprints

      DNA fingerprints can help explore your ancestry, unlock your health, and even track down a killer.

    3. How Big is a Genome?

      What does a nuclear explosion have to do with the amount of information in your genome?

    4. Protein Origami

      How molecules fold into biological machines is one of the greatest unsolved problems in biology.

  2. 2

    Order and Information

    Discover the central dogma of molecular biology via computational experiments.

    1. Included with
      Brilliant Premium

      Information and Order

      What are genes and how do they store the blueprints of bacteria and human beings?

    2. Included with
      Brilliant Premium

      Dogmatic Structures

      Molecular biology follows a simple set of rules to turn information into living things.

    3. Included with
      Brilliant Premium

      DNA Composition

      Use Python to replicate a series of experiments that proved once and for all the role of DNA in biology.

    4. Included with
      Brilliant Premium

      Programming Gene Expression

      Biology uses a series of enzymes to transcribe DNA sequences into RNA. You'll use Python.

  3. 3


    Learn your way around the human genome with techniques like DNA profiling, genotyping, and ancestry analysis.

    1. Included with
      Brilliant Premium

      Reading our own Blueprints

      A teaspoon of DNA can store a trillion gigabytes of data. But reading any of that data is difficult.

    2. Included with
      Brilliant Premium

      DNA Forensics

      The FBI's CODIS database has all the data you need to track down the Golden State Killer.

    3. Included with
      Brilliant Premium


      Icelandic DNA tells a story of Viking colonization and plunder across the Northern Atlantic.

    4. Included with
      Brilliant Premium


      Build a map of Africa using the geography encoded in DNA.

  4. 4

    Molecular Folding

    Use insights from thermodynamics and evolution to build algorithms that find the structures of biological sequences.

    1. Included with
      Brilliant Premium

      How to Fold a Molecule

      Use some tricks from origami to predict how DNA and proteins find their shape.

    2. Included with
      Brilliant Premium

      Finding Palindromes

      The first step of RNA folding requires finding all the palindromes.

    3. Included with
      Brilliant Premium

      RNA Folding

      There are many ways to fold a molecule, but only one is best. How do we find it?

    4. Included with
      Brilliant Premium

      Nussinov Algorithm

      Ruth Nussinov found a clever shortcut to make computational RNA folding easy.

  5. 5


    Develop the fundamental problem solving strategies underlying mapping based, and de novo sequencing of the genome.

    Coming Soon
  6. 6

    The Tree of Life

    Explore phylogeny, the art of determining evolutionary relationships by comparative sequence analysis.

    Coming Soon