Genealogy and genetics are connected. Genealogists take DNA tests to learn more about their heritage and their health. They create medical family trees to discover what “runs in the family” due to genetics. The results of a DNA test can be interesting. Sometimes, though, it is difficult to understand how genetics work. An video game called Niche provides a fun way to learn about genes and how they work.
Niche is a digital board game about genetics, heredity, and evolution. The game is from Team Niche, who are based in Zurich, Switzerland. Niche focuses on population genetics. You start with an animal tribe, and your goal is to keep your tribe alive against all odds. Dangers include hungry predators, climate change, and spreading sickness.
You get to choose what actions your animals do. Options include collecting food, scouting for a new field, attacking a predator, and mating. Those that mate can produce offspring which will have a mix of genetically inherited traits that come from their parents. Animals have a limited lifespan, so mating and producing offspring is an important part of the game.
Ideally, you want to create animals that can pass on good, strong, genes to the next generation. The way to do that is to mate your animals with new ones that are not already part of the tribe. New genes are important in any population (both in the game and in reality).
Players that decide to mate two animals that are too closely related can end up with offspring that are more prone to sickness and that die younger than typical. This sort of problem has happened in reality in royal families that end up marrying and producing offspring with people whom they are too closely related to. It is the reason why you might be prohibited from marrying one of your first cousins (depending on where you happen to live).
Each different biome in the game requires animals that are genetically prepared to cope with, and thrive in, that environment. What helps your animals survive a cold area might not work as well if they move to a much hotter climate. The game will be fully released in 2017.
Sometimes, a visual example is the easiest way to explain something. Genealogists who play the Niche game might gain a better grasp of how genetically heritable conditions have been passed down from one generation of their family to the next. It also provides an example of why some genes are more preferable than others because they help an animal to survive in a particular ecosystem.
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