>Ask the average student to name the most boring class and 7 out of 10 are likely to name biology and chemistry. That could change radically in a couple of months when an online interactive education game that is currently in the final phase of development by a team of biologists and computer programmers in the United States, is ready.
Meta!Blast, a real-time 3D action-adventure game promises to put students in the pilot’s seat, allowing him or her to shrink down to microscopic size and explore the vivid, dynamic world of a soybean plant cell spinning out of control. One can interact with numerous characters, fight off plant pathogens, and discover just how important plants are to the survival of the human race. The goal of the application is to dynamically illustrate modern concepts in cell and metabolic biology, prepare students for their public role, and stimulate students to join the biological and medical teaching and research professions.
“The interactive software module on cell biology will immerse students in a three-dimensional, biologically-accurate plant cell. Biological concepts will be parsed into student tasks, while keeping these in the context of the whole environment. Meta!Blast will combine simulation technology with accurate biological information, allowing students to explore and interact with a cell to discover concepts such as cellular energetics, gene function, cellular defenses against pathogens, and the consequences of compartmentalization. The application will dynamically illustrate modern concepts in cell and metabolic biology, prepare students for their public role, and stimulate students to join biological and medical teaching and research,” said Eve Syrkin Wurtele from department of genetics, development and cell biology at Iowa State University, who is leading the project to make cell-biology a fun-to-learn experience.
Wurtele was in Kolkata to give a talk on A green world of biological network and plants: Turning Air to Oil’ to students at the Birla Industrial & Technological Museum, Kolkata. She has been touring the country to interact with students and teachers to get them interested in microbiology and make them aware of Meta!Blast that would be available for use in classrooms and homes soon.
Meta!Blast will provide a medium a dynamic virtual cell that lends itself to the comprehension of cell biology. Building and populating an accurate 3D representation of a plant cell was a huge challenging and the team spanned numerous disciplines with faculty and students in biology, art, computer science, music, and game design constructed the compelling and accurate virtual cell. The game will be tested by 5,000 students in 20 high schools in Iowa and Mississippi in the next semester before being released worldwide.
“Knowledge of cellular structure and function has increased dramatically with the advent of modern molecular and computational technologies. Helping students understand cellular dynamics is a major challenge to educators. Meta!Blast will contain virtual plant cell containing a prototype chloroplast in which students can enter, activate light reactions, including electron excitation, and create molecular oxygen and ATP,” she said.
Wurtele has been researching metabolic networks in plants and how they can be regulated to manipulate the levels of valuable compounds both natural ones already available in plants and add different genes to create new compounds. “Plants produce a wide range of nutrition, energy, industrial materials, fibre, medicines, flavours and fragrances and designer compounds. We are trying to develop a small molecule that can be used by chemical industry to replace the molecules derived from petroleum,” Wurtele added.