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Date: 21 October, 2011
DNA is very clever stuff – it shapes what we look like, and can even influence how we behave. Surefish, in collaboration with the Genome Engineering blog, brings you ten games to help you learn a bit about genetics. By Suzanne Elvidge.
To play a game, simply click on its name. If you are a parent, we advise you to try the game and the site it's on first before letting your kids play them, to make sure you're happy.
Your goal is to breed a particular variation of a border collie. Click on the blue arrow on the parents to find out more about their genes, and then pick two and click to breed. If the puppy isn’t quite what you want, click ‘continue’ to send it to join the breeding pool.
As you go on, it might take more than one round of breeding to get the puppy looking how you want – it does get harder! Click on ‘how to play’ to get a guided tour of the game.
To play, start by downloading the game from the FoldIt website and go through the 32 introductory puzzles, learning tips and tricks for folding proteins, and then move on to the puzzles based on real proteins, potentially helping make real medical advances.
Not into computer games? Try the related Rosetta@home screensaver and use your computer’s spare capacity to help with protein research.
In EteRNA, which is a follow up to FoldIt, you design RNA and this will become part of the first large-scale library of synthetic RNA designs – so like FoldIt, this game can become real science.
EteRNA could potentially help to find new ways to design RNA-based switches and nanomachines, and players will be able to learn from real experimental feedback – 306 molecules have made it into the lab.
Mutate the bases by highlighting the options in the box at the bottom – start by working through the tutorial, and look out for helpful links in the top left hand corner.
Play the challenge puzzles and then move on to the lab puzzles. The puzzles get harder but this game is somewhat addictive!
Whenever plants or animals (or people) create offspring, these have a mixture of the genes from both parents – a genetic cross. Your aim is to work out the genetic crosses.
Start by dragging the genes you need into the top right box – each plant has two copies of each gene. Capital letters show dominant genes and lower case are recessive – a dominant gene will overpower a recessive gene. If both genes are the same case it’s known as homozygous and if they are different it’s heterozygous.
You will then need to create a Punnett square to help you work out the answers to the questions at the bottom. Put copies of the genes from the cross at the top and side, and fill the centre in (there should be none left over).
Another game to help you contribute to science. The coloured blocks represent nucleotides – the building blocks of DNA.
Shift them around to align the sequences before the time runs out – it’s frustrating, puzzling, entertaining and will help scientists, because people are better at recognizing patterns and solving visual problems than computers.
Nothing intellectual here. Just catch as much DNA as you can without picking up the debris. Move the mouse to catch the DNA in the tube but avoid the fish bones, bits of twig and the I don’t know whats. Somewhat addictive.
The Melonheads want to know what genes they will pass on to their baby – select the genes from mum and dad Melonhead by picking a pair of genes, one from each parent, to make baby Melvin Melonhead look just like his picture.
Don’t forget that some are dominant and some recessive. While you are there, test yourself on the cloning quiz, find the cloned kitten, turn your name into a sequence and then mutate it, or mix up genes for eye colour.
In this game, you need to move and edit letters to make the final words make sense. Cut and edit very carefully – it’s not as easy as it looks!
Are our traits (how we look, the diseases we get) people inherited or influenced by the environment? Is it Nature or Nurture?
Watch the videos to get a bit of background, and then drag the slider to estimate the percentage that the trait is influenced by genetics (nature) or the environment (nurture). You get the chance to compare it with real research at the end.
Gregor Mendel is described as the father of genetics – but how much to you know about him? Play the quiz and find out.