Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Genetic Gaming

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A new novel online scientific game recently reviewed by both New Scientist 1 and the New York Times 2  receiving much praise is Etherna 3, the premise of which is to complete challenges involving the folding of RNA in to desired structures by taking advantage of base pairing specificities. This program highlights the issues currently being experienced in the field of genetics, as the RNA molecules can fold in a variety of ways dependent on many factors. This game is very clever and simple, it has an easy to navigate layout and is vibrant. The idea may seem geeky and daunting to non scientists but the theory behind it is made simple and easy to understand during the tutorial, and in essence is fun to play.  The website also contains a live chat forum to allow the exchange of ideas and has a series of challenges for every type of gamer. The game itself is somewhere in between Bejewelled, Bubble, and Tetris. The benefits of such a game include new structures can be designed by the player and lead to the discovery of new mechanisms in the folding and regulation of RNA molecules. The possibilities are huge when large groups of people work together and apply different methods of thinking and problem solving to the same task, and the data generated from the game can go on to benefit scientific discovery in the future.  This is just another online problem-solving community currently part of a growing trend, taking advantage of offering fun tasks in exchange for large amounts of information and data. 

Games like this are making science fun and exciting for a wide range of people, teaching them some basic biology along the way.  It is vital to promote since in a range of forms and media in order to appeal to different groups of people, and this game goes a long way to achieving this goal. After all, the best kind of learning is the kind that doesn’t feel like hard work.

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