Why is it some people don't have fingerprints? Or that others are more at risk of gluten intolerance? And what does bioinformatics have to do with all this? Find out with our mobile game Genome Jumper. Play over 20 avatars from populations around the world, and explore the similarities and the differences in their genes. Launched by SIB as part of its 20th anniversary, and with the financial support of numerous sponsors, Genome Jumper invites you to discover human diversity through our genes and our proteins.
An educational game to celebrate 20 years of Swiss bioinformatics
From skin and eye colour to food preference and disease predisposition - countless features can be influenced by small changes in our DNA, referred to as variants.
On the occasion of its 20th birthday, SIB has created, with the help of professional mobile game developers, a ‘serious game’ to make scientific concepts accessible to a lay audience. The game is available via a smartphone game app.
“With this game”, explains Franziska Gruhl, Bioinformatician and Junior Communications Project Manager at SIB, “we wanted to highlight, in an entertaining way, the biological diversity of human beings and demonstrate how important bioinformatics is in understanding this diversity at the genetic level.”
“Players quickly discover how the information contained in our DNA is used as a blueprint to build proteins, and the surprising consequences small genetic changes can have... such as the absence of fingerprints!” she adds.
The current state of scientific knowledge on the concepts presented in this game stems directly from bioinformatics methods, tools and expertise, many of which have been developed and offered by SIB since 1998.
A race around the globe to collect variants
The game consists of 25 different avatars, each of which represents a different human population from all over the world. To progress from level to level, the player has to unlock as many avatars as possible by running along their genes and collecting the associated variants.
“By playing the avatar Christophe for example”, illustrates Daniel Teixeira, Software developer at SIB, “you will discover three different genes. The first has a variant associated with daltonism (OPN1MW); the second, a variant associated with a higher production of red blood cells (EPOR) and the last with gluten intolerance (SH2B3).”
The avatars change their appearance depending on the variant they have just collected, and the difficulty of the game increases with the levels. As an example, the player needs to jump between platforms and avoid obstacles such as what are known as non-coding regions or RNA secondary structures.
“As far as we know, this game is the only platform game on the market that uses real gene transcripts as suspended platforms, which made the whole project even more exciting and challenging!” he continues.
The science behind the game
“Each gene transcript in the game has been generated from scientific sources”, points out Franziska. “The challenge, for both us and the developers we worked with, was to remain as true as possible to the science, while keeping the game fun and easy to play”.
Short descriptions on a gene’s function, and the effects and distribution of its respective variant allow the most curious and science-savvy players to pursue further. Links are also made to scientific sources and an illustrated glossary.
Where possible, an emphasis is also put on highlighting the respective role played by environmental factors and genetics, as well as the importance of bioinformatics in their understanding.
Are you ready to take up to the challenge?