Well I had a class of 7 students today as many of my Biology class were sitting their final exams for another subject. We are currently studying DNA, mutations and evolution all in a combined sort of way. So instead of 'wasting' this time today I thought I would try something a bit different.
I have been playing Plague Inc from Ndemic Creations on my iPad lately, and I think it has some decent potential to help me teach some of the concepts behind mutations/DNA and how these impact the process of evolution. So I gave the group my iPad and let them have a go at playing the game. For those of you who don't know the game the idea behind it is you are an infectious disease and to win you need to wipe out the entire world population.
So I told them they were a fungus and their job was to survive and destroy humanity despite their best attempts to cure the disease. You can choose where to start, so pick a country but you need to talk with eachother and come to an agreement. This started a pretty interesting discussion about where the best place to start was. In the end they decided on southern Asia because of high population density and a wet climate.
Then we discussed the options they had to mutate their fungus, including special abilities, symptoms and transmission characteristics. I left them discussing what they needed to do to effectively infect more people in Asia and then move into other countries.
One student wanted to give those infected the nausea symptom, another student responded with "No, that will probably make us discovered" and another with "Yeah I think we want to spread first then". Now mutations happen randomly throughout the game that gives the disease various symptoms.
At some stage either the students or the game mutated the symptom pneumonia, this allowed them to be discovered by the humans and they started working on a cure, very slowly of course. So I 'paused' the game and had a bit of a discussion about whether that mutation was a good thing or a bad thing, was it going to help them survive? The response was "It helped us spread faster, but got us discovered, so probably more con than pro."
The game continued, they infected almost the entire population and started evolving ever more deadly symptoms. This prompted humans to speed up the research to try and cure the disease. The game ended with the humans finding a cure, after the fungus had wiped out about half the worlds population.
So to wrap it up I asked them what they would do differently next time (and many said they were going to go home and buy it) here are their responses.
"Pump up the stuff that makes it spread"
"More symptoms made them try to cure us more"
"Infect the whole population, then kill them all"
"Make the disease like a dormant one, get everyone infected, then start killing"
So in one lesson I think the students have a very good base for me to discuss selection pressure and evolution. Thanks to Ndemic Creations for actually making the game. As always thanks for reading and please feel free to comment below, I would be very interested to hear your thoughts on this one.