Yesterday a paper from my lab (by Morgan Langille, with me as co-author) was published in PLoS On: BioTorrents: A File Sharing Service for Scientific Data
In it we describe a new website dedicated to the sharing of biology related files via BitTorrent, the popular distributed file sharing system. The abstract sums things up prety well:
The transfer of scientific data has emerged as a significant challenge, as datasets continue to grow in size and demand for open access sharing increases. Current methods for file transfer do not scale well for large files and can cause long transfer times. In this study we present BioTorrents, a website that allows open access sharing of scientific data and uses the popular BitTorrent peer-to-peer file sharing technology. BioTorrents allows files to be transferred rapidly due to the sharing of bandwidth across multiple institutions and provides more reliable file transfers due to the built-in error checking of the file sharing technology. BioTorrents contains multiple features, including keyword searching, category browsing, RSS feeds, torrent comments, and a discussion forum. BioTorrents is available at http://www.biotorrents.net.
Personally, I am not sure if Biotorrents is going to end up being used extensively. I hope so. I think it is a great idea of Morgan’s. But more importantly, I believe it represents something we need more and more of in the “Open Science” movement. We need experimentation with all sorts of methods for improving sharing. The sharing of large electronic files, such as datasets of some kind (e.g., sequences, pictures, mass spec results, etc) are rapidly becoming a major complication in scientific research. If one publishes a paper on whatever, or even before one publishes a paper, sharing the data associated with the work is not always simple. Biotorrents could help in this in that sharing files via BitTorrent is very simple and easy. And if some data sets are of great interest, and if a lot of people start using Biotorrents, then the download and distribution of the data sets of interest will get faster as more and more people serve as hosts to contribute to the distributed file sharing.
“Someone could download all the Nature papers and post them there, but we’re not encouraging that,” Eisen jokes. All PLoS papers are already on BioTorrents.
More on the web is coming out regarding Biotorrents and I will try to post some links here, including to some slightly older stuff