Students often struggle to develop an intuitive understanding of the core ideas underlying evolutionary biology. For instance, the concept of "randomness" and how it impacts evolution are not as obvious as we might think. Wouldn't it be cool if there was a way for students to watch evolution happening in real time experiments where they could get a first-hand appreciation for how these things work?
Enter AVIDA, a computer platform where virtual computers -- basically domesticated computer viruses -- compete with each other for access to the computer's processor and memory. AVIDA 'organisms' have 'genomes' -- strings of computer code that let them copy themselves as well as do math operations that get them 'energy'. These genomes mutate randomly during copying, allowing the 'Avidians' to evolve. Importantly, AVIDA isn't a simulation of evolution, but rather a different kind of 'life' that obeys the same laws of selection and drift as the biological world.
AVIDA-ED is a platform developed for using AVIDA in the classroom. It's a simple desktop or browser interface where the user has lots of options for how to set up the 'world' the Avidians will compete in. For our ROSE November Lunch Meeting, Dr. Mickie Powell (UAB Biology) will give us a workshop on how to use AVIDA-ED in an introductory biology classroom. Prior to attending the meeting, please download and read the two files below. Also, go ahead and take a look at the web-based version of AVIDA-ED.