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Serious Games To Explore Complex Genetics Concepts

Touching Triton, developed by HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology, was selected as a finalist in the 2015 Serious Games Showcase and Challenge in the Business Category.

HudsonAlpha, located in Huntsville, Alabama, is a nonprofit institute dedicated to advancing genomics in medicine, agriculture, education and commerce. To help prepare the biotech industry's future workforce, HudsonAlpha's educational outreach team designs activities to engage students and teachers.

Their latest effort, Touching Triton, is an online "Serious Game" developed with assistance from NASA and the U.S. Space & Rocket Center.

In the game, students use modern genomic and health information to help keep six crew members alive on their 20-year, round-trip mission to Triton, a moon of Neptune. Players are challenged with sorting through medical record, genomic and family history data to determine a crew member’s risk for six common complex diseases. 

Players can choose from six astronauts to study their risk for common complex disease. Credits: HudsonAlpha

Whether a person develops a common complex disease during his/her lifetime is a puzzle made up of many factors that interact together in a complicated manner. Medical research is beginning to uncover some of these puzzle pieces while many remain unknown. A person’s medical records, family history and genetic information can provide important clues to a person’s risk for disease. .

Players must use the information presented within the game to complete tasks associated with determining which risk factors are present for common complex diseases for a crew member. As students determine risk factors present, they are asked to determine risk level based on that data. 

The goal of the game is to make informed decisions about items to pack on the ship that help mitigate risk or treat disease (medical supplies, fitness equipment and more). Not all items can be packed so players must use risk assessment to choose strategically. Students packing items that reduce the risk of disease for the crew member appropriately, are rewarded with a higher likelihood of all of the crew members return from the 20-year mission alive and healthy.

Touching Triton encourages discussion about health and long-term flight. Credits: HudsonAlpha

Designed for high school biology courses in grades 9-10, including biology, Advanced Placement biology, genetics, anatomy and physiology, Touching Triton provides an opportunity for teachers and students to have an engaging conversation and build understanding about the complex nature of common diseases. The ability for students to work together on a mission in multiplayer mode fosters rich discussion among the group where students must argue for and against various packing options based on the evidence and risk assessment at hand.

You can try this Serious Game yourself, by visiting Just click "play as a guest."