With one keystroke, Jun Liu puts his computer to the task of identifying switches that turn on and off related genes among numerous DNA sequences of E. coli. Running on a program he created, the computer locates the switches in less than a second. The demonstration is remarkable not only because the technique is fast and accurate — 80 percent of the predictions have been right — but also because of Liu’s background in rural China during the Cultural Revolution. He never had a computer or calculator and rarely saw a math book.

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