There are a lot of complex topics that have to be covered in any science class, but one of the most difficult topics a science teacher has to cover is molecular biology.
While there are plenty of computer programs and games that cover other subjects like math or history, science teachers often find themselves scraping around for computer tools that can help in the classroom.
Thankfully, there is software available out there to help science teachers if you know where to look. One well-written program called Biogenesis
will introduce students to the fascinating world of molecular biology. The program literally simulates an actual microscopic world where living things - unicellular organisms - travel, collide, reproduce and die all in front of your eyes.
It is interesting enough to be classified as a game, but ultimately it allows students to observe a world that is normally hidden to the human eye. Not only that, but students can also interact with that world and watch how different variables can alter the future of those organisms.
Main Biogenesis Screen
When you first open Biogenesis, you'll see strange objects floating around over a dark background. These objects are actually models of unicellular organisms. The collection of them that you see floating around is actually a model of such a population of cells as they occur in nature, whether it's in the human body, in the air or in water.
The simulation teaches students about cellular interactions by showing how bacterial processes work in a visual way. Without even doing anything at all, students can watch as the simulation shows the mechanisms of bacterial evolution - things like mutations and photosynthesis take place right before the student's eyes.
Interacting With the Simulation
What makes the simulation so interesting is that students can click on individual organisms and observe information about them in real-time as they traverse through the micro-universe. Whenever you click on the individual organism, a pane at the bottom of the screen displays data like its age, whether it is a first generation parent or a child, whether it is infected by bacterial genes, as well as its energy and mass.
The very bottom of the window shows how much time has elapsed in this world, the current population of organisms, and the current level of oxygen or carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. If you click on the "Examine Genes" button in the bottom pane, you will see a window that shows even more detail about the genetic breakdown of the organism.
The Genetic Laboratory
The Genetic Laboratory is where you can not only see the length and rotation speed of each gene that makes up the cell, but you can also tweak and modify those genes however you like. The gene segments are represented with lines that are different colors and different lengths.
Feeding and Manipulating
What makes this so much fun is that students can choose particular organisms to feed and watch as those cells grow and then multiply. Students can also click on the magnifying glass icon to "trace" that organism as it travels, or they can weaken or kill the organisms. Copying the magnetic code is what students will want to do if they want to create perfect clones of certain organisms to introduce back into the simulation.
Watching Reproduction and Evolution
The game becomes very interesting as you watch organisms grow and other children break off - carrying nearly identical genetic strands. The "nearly" is what makes the simulation realistic. Examining the child organisms closely, students will be able to identify the random mutations that took place, and how those children are actually different from the first.
Students can quickly modify organisms in the simulation by right clicking on them and selecting from the options menu that pops up. They can quickly feed or weaken it, make it immediately reproduce and create children, kill the organism off or even rejuvenate a dead organism.
The Statistics Window
To get a "big picture" idea of what's going on in the simulated cellular world, you can select World and Statistics from the menu. This window shows you a list of the most "remarkable organisms" in your world, as well as a mixture of information like total population and average population over time, the rates of mortality and infection, and much more.
Creating Random Organisms
Each time you "copy" an organism, you have that genetic code in your clipboard. That means that at any point, you can right click inside the world and click "Paste" to create a brand new organism with an exact copy of that genetic code.
You can also create a random organism that has a brand new genetic structure, or you can import organisms that you've saved from other worlds.
Network With Other Worlds
This isn't the sort of software that you might think would have networking capabilities, but that's actually the case. You can network with either your own other worlds that you might have running on another computer, or with your friend's worlds that they have running. All you need to do is enable "Allow connections from other users" and they'll be able to connect with your simulated world just by entering your IP address into their software.
You can connect to others by clicking on "Network -> Manage Network" and typing in the IP and port that your friends have set up in their own network configuration.
It's a fun way to explore and learn about cellular biology, and it's also a way that science teachers can bring the ideas of mutation, evolution and cellular reproduction into the classroom in an interesting and exciting way.
Windows, shareware, freeware, software, computer, study, education, classroom, educational, program, free, kids, kindergarten, learn ABC ABCs 123s, numbers, children, education, school, schools, K12,cell biology, cell models biology, high school cell biology, molecular cell biology