Tuesday, December 13, 2011
Funny Bunnies: Evolution Simulation
In my last post, I included a link to an online simulation of the lac operon. If you haven't given it a try, I highly recommend doing so. Today, I want to share another simulation from the same source, the University of Colorado at Boulder. This simulation - entitled Natural Selection - allows you to explore the mechanism of evolution. Again, the premise, graphics, and interface are all very simple, but the lessons are profound.
You start off with one white bunny rabbit that lives at the equator. With the click of a button, you can "add a friend" (start the bunnies propagating), introduce mutations (brown fur, long tail, or long teeth - and decide whether these mutations are going to be dominant or recessive), bring in predators (wolves), give the rabbits food (scrub grass), and change the rabbits' environment (from the brown equator to the white arctic). Then you watch what happens - do the bunnies die, or survive? And more importantly, the simulation gets you to think about why. There is even a running chart at the bottom that keeps track of your population, both total rabbits and by specific phenotypes (physical traits).
It is a great tool to illustrate how different mutations - for example, brown fur color - can be advantageous in one environment (at the equator, where the ground is brown and the brown rabbits are camouflaged and can better evade the wolves), but not in another (in the arctic, the white fur is more advantageous, for the same reason). You can also watch the effects of changing mutations from dominant to recessive or vice versa, and how that affects your population.
The best part is, if you do a really good job of taking care of your bunnies, they (literally) take over the world. Well, maybe that isn't so great ...