UniServe Science News Volume 14 November 1999


Simulated Evolution

Wendy Wright
School of Applied Science, Monash University

Simulated Evolution uses computer animation to illustrate evolution by the process of natural selection. Animated "bugs" (simulating protozoa) populate a "pond" on the computer screen. Selective pressure due to the competition for food favours adaptive mutations as the bugs reproduce, and students can observe the evolution of adaptive feeding behaviours (changes to the phenotype) at the same time as tracking changes in the genotype of the bugs.

Another feature of the program allows students to "design" bugs with a genetic makeup of their own choosing and then to test the effectiveness of their feeding behaviour within the program. This encourages students to form links between an understanding of the genetic makeup of a bug (its genotype) and the expression of the genetic makeup (its phenotype).

The program can be run in a number of different modes and with a wide range of starting conditions (different population density of "bugs", different distribution of food resources, etc.). The program has a built-in facility for recording the events occurring on the screen. This enables students to view a "quick replay" of any particular run of the program.

The program can be used to illustrate the following concepts to undergraduate students of biological/environmental science:

  • from population dynamics - cyclic population fluctuations, exponential growth, population explosion and subsequent crash (boom and bust cycles), extinction, speciation and adaptation;
  • from genetics - genetic variation, mutation, genotype/phenotype distinction, genetic drift, and genetic disorders; and
  • from ecology - ecological niche.
  • There is scope to either skim the surface of these concepts, or to probe a little deeper.

    The program is easy to use, requiring an IBM PC or true IBM compatible with 128 K of memory and a colour/graphics adaptor card. The program runs from DOS, which fewer and fewer students are used to using, but which is simple enough to navigate through. The program is designed so that it can be used without reference to printed instructions, however there is a User's Manual which explains the program and its uses in depth. The Manual exists as a series of text files on the main program disk. They can be used on-screen or printed out to form a hard copy manual.

    Simulated Evolution is available from:
    Life Science Associates
    1 Fenimore Rd
    Bayport NY 11705-5115 USA
    Tel: (516) 472 2111

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    UniServe Science News Volume 14 November 1999

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