Artificial Selection: The Secret Life of Plants

Artificial Selection: The Secret Life of Plants

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06/21/2018

For students, it can be difficult to understand the minute differences between natural selection and selective breeding. Sure, the core principle is simple: artificial selection involves human involvement, while truly natural selection does not. But are the end results that different? And if so, how are they different? Read on for examples of games that exemplify the effects of selective breeding on the environment.

Reach for the Sun

Reach for the Sun
Plants must produce seeds in order to continue spreading their genes, especially in environments that have harsh winters.
Reach for the Sun has students grow their own plant in order to create the conditions necessary for seed production. Here’s an example: a sunflower first needs good roots and a stem, then come the leaves, finally the flowers and their fertilization.

Even though the game’s depiction of plant growth essentially grants them sentience (as plant growth is controlled by the student), the end result is surprisingly close to real-life plants and their growing process. In real life, genetic and environmental factors determine how a plant grows. In-game, those same factors are also depicted: occasionally there will be periods of rain or drought, necessitating a different approach regardless of whether genetics or a human player makes the necessary choices.

Crazy Plant Shop

Crazy Plant Shop
An in-depth look at selective breeding,
Crazy Plant Shop has students running a plant shop that specializes in breeding customized plants for customers that have discriminating tastes. The game also incorporates natural selection, in a fashion: any type of plant is also available for purchase, with its traits fully randomized. As is often the case for businesses, the randomized and natural product is simply not good enough.

Crazy Plant Shop offers up a great, if somewhat simplified, representation of the breeding process. New plants are created instantly in a completely fictional machine, and traits are hand-picked with a Punnett square, but otherwise the scientific logic is sound. The game is great for demonstrating the difference of dominant and recessive traits: often, the difficult-to-attain recessive traits sell for the highest bidder.

There’s only one thing that Crazy Plant Shop doesn’t cover at all about the breeding process: mutations. For example, every two millionth lobster is blue, and flowers can have patches of different colors due to mutations. In-game, no such simulation exists, probably because such instances are rare. Still, they are a good concept to cover in the classroom!

Climate Pursuit

Climate Pursuit
What must a species do to survive 100 years of climate change?
Climate Pursuit seeks to answer that question. Students play either as a plant, rodent or bird, each with their distinctive advantages and disadvantages. For example, plants may be able to produce seeds more easily, but are unable to control where the seeds end up, unlike animals.

As in real life, regardless of the species the students play as, the only option for survival is emigration. Animals cannot stop or even mitigate the effects of global warming, and adaptation is seldom enough to guarantee survival. In Climate Pursuit, students have to balance migration with the inherent attributes of their species. Move too slowly, and the excess heat will leave you extinct. Move too fast, and the climate gets too cold for you.

As unfortunate it is, some species will not be able to sufficiently adapt or emigrate to keep on thriving. In Climate Pursuit, the species will always have a fighting chance since a human mind will be in the control seat.

Natural Selection Versus Selective Breeding

Perhaps the greatest difference between natural selection and selective breeding is that element of randomness. However, it is important to understand that natural selection may not even truly exist in nature at all. Human influence is so extensive that changing and encroached habitats are extensively affecting wildlife populations.

Still, it is an excellent idea to teach students the crucial differences between natural selection and selective breeding, and nothing gets the point across quite as well as these games, available right now on TeacherGaming Store!