BIO 256 - Computer Applications in Biology

Assignment 6 - Internet News (USENET)

Important References:

In this assignment, you will access Usenet (also known as "Internet News", although it predates the Internet), a collection of "newsgroups" or topics that inhabits both the Internet and a number of other less well-known networks. Most of the newsgroups are like public "bulletin boards", where people "post" messages and read messages posted by others. For either sheer intellectual dynamism or absolute worthless drivel, it would be hard to find a better single source (unfortunately, in recent years drivel has the edge). Usenet can be a real time-eater if you get interested in a group, but it is a way to learn things you might not learn elsewhere. Often you can post a question to a group and get a dozen answers (possibly all different, occasionally all wrong) inside of 24 hours.

The last time I looked, there were over 30,000 newsgroups on USENET. This is too many for you to deal with efficiently, but here are some hierarchies that should be of interest to you:

bionet.* (The * means there are groups and/or levels under the bionet level). This hierarchy has about 100 newsgroups and is the principal area for biologists to communicate.* There are not quite two dozen newsgroups of interest to biologists found here.

To use Usenet, you need software called a "newsreader". If you are adventurous, you can use a newsreader on the Unix shell of the Intranet. Netscape has included a newsreader since at least version 3. But for this assignment, we will use a web service, Google Groups, which provides an easy web-based access to the newsgroups.

This assignment only involves reading newsgroups, not posting to them. I recommend that you not post to any newsgroups until you have (a) read the "frequently asked questions" article (often called a FAQ) of the specific newsgroup, if it is present, and (b) read the postings of others for a few days to get an idea of the dynamics of the group. In my experience, you can never be too polite, especially if you want to convince others of your ideas.

A serious issue involving Usenet is spam: unsolicited commercial email messages. Spammers have programs that extract email addresses from Usenet posts. This is not an email address in the body of the message (although those can be extracted, too); rather, it is the "From" address that you enter in the Mail and News section of Netscape, or the posting information of Google Groups. To avoid a great increase in the amount of spam, some people disguise their email addresses, by inserting parts that don't belong: becomes As you might imagine, such an email address doesn't work for anybody, spammer or legitimate correspondent, unless they take out the added parts. Another solution is to get a free email account (you can get one from someplace like Hotmail or Yahoo), use it only for Usenet posts, and check it occasionally for legitimate messages.

USENET is one of several place on the Internet where offensive materials and the first amendment collide. If you come across a newsgroup whose name makes you think it contains material you will find offensive, then it probably does. Most newsgroups contain exactly what's implied by the name. You may wish to avoid such newsgroups. If you post to newsgroups using the university's computer system, you need to remember that you are subject to the policies of the university. What may be protected using your own private property may not be protected on the university's system.


Please carry out the following steps in order, and please read through them before you begin:

  • Look over the Basics of Usenet at Google Groups. It summarized a lot of the information you need in order to use Usenet effectively. You might also want to review Internet Basics.
  • Part One
    1. Go to Google Groups, either Advanced group search or Browse all the groups. Find the group This group lists jobs for biologists.
    2. Find any short article (i.e. fewer than 30 lines). (NOTE: If doesn't have any articles, or they are all too long, then try Email any one of them (using the web browser's "send to" function) to The subject must be bio256a6-1 (lower case, no spaces). Make sure to add your name and SSN to the message so that I know it is from you.
  • Part Two - Go to Advanced group search. Find any article dated before January 1, 1990, that mentions "polymerase chain reaction". Email the URL (only) to The subject must be bio256a6-2 (lower case, no spaces). Make sure to add your name and SSN to the message so that I know it is from you.
  • Return to the newsgroup list and scroll through the various groups in bionet and, just so you will have an idea of what is there.

Summary of assignment

Check off Format Content Subject line
Email forward Any article from or bio256a6-1
Email URL URL of any post prior to 1990.01.01 that includes "polymerase chain reaction" bio256a6-2