Teaching Science

Mar 2018

Ecosystem Computer Game

Grow and modify an ecosystem, with simulated evolution by natural selection creating the lifeforms that inhabit it. Ecosystem is a game about life and its interactions. At its heart are evolving virtual lifeforms, who grow from synthetic DNA and live in a physically-simulated ocean.

This synthetic DNA encodes everything about a creature, from skeletal structure to skin, from joint-types to mental processes. The genetic code of a creature can mutate, combine, be spliced with other species, and be directly modified by the player.

To swim, creatures don't just play an animation. They move like real sea-life, applying torque at their joints to push against the water in a way coordinated to propel themselves forward. Working within this physical simulation, evolution can produce an enormous variety of body shapes and swimming styles.

Creature brains are also encoded in DNA and subject to evolution. The neurology of a virtual lifeform is a pipeline computer where, every moment, data from sense organs is passed through a network of neurons and finally contracts a muscle in a specific body part.

A wide variety of different creature populations share a single environment, where they swim, graze, prey on each other, and have children. The fittest creatures pass their genes along to their children, and over time a world of strange and unique creatures is born.

This is another Kickstarter project that I’m backing. It looks interesting, and at $15 for the digital game tier it’s eminently affordable.

Linked in the grade 11 biology page.

In Our Time: Fungi

In Our Time is a wonderful series on BBC Radio 4.

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss fungi. These organisms are not plants or animals but a kingdom of their own. Millions of species of fungi live on the Earth and they play a crucial role in ecosystems, enabling plants to obtain nutrients and causing material to decay. Without fungi, life as we know it simply would not exist. They are also a significant part of our daily life, making possible the production of bread, wine and certain antibiotics. Although fungi brought about the colonisation of the planet by plants about 450 million years ago, some species can kill humans and devastate trees.

Linked in the grade 11 biology page.