What's the equivalent of prime number calculations, for biologists?

Randy Olson, who is watching amusedly from the side lines as I struggle once again to teach programming to graduate students in biology, asked a really good question (it's rare, yes, but it should be acknowledged for encouragement) --

Had a student from your class ask me today if it's typical for programming assignments to become more relevant once you get to a certain level of programming. I told him that yeah, that's typical, since you need a certain level of data structures and control flow to start making really useful programs. Usually most of the problems you solve when you're first learning programming are abstract/not really practical.

Then that got me thinking: are there relevant, non-abstract problems (for biologists) that you can solve with minimal programming skills? Hmm..

I'm curious, though, if there's a biology equivalent to "calculate the primes" etc. that are traditional CS newbie problems.

So... is/are there? Discuss amongst yourselves!



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