Avida-Ed: Exploring Evolution in Silico

At the NABT Conference in Atlanta in the fall of 2007, Brad Williamson talked me and a few others who were loitering around to come to a workshop presentation on Avida-Ed software as a means of fostering inquiry of evolutionary processes.  After the presentation, Brad suggested that I write a post about the experience.  At the time, I didn’t have much to say.

Having had time to play around with Avid-Ed and to make my way through most of the unedited model lessons downloadable from the Avida-Ed website, I have decided to make the post.  The best place to start is to download the software developed by Robert T. Pennock from the Avida-Ed website at Michigan State University, and to read the Discover magazine article written by Carl Zimmer highlighting Robert Pennock’s development and use of the research version of the software to study the process of evolution (The first activity below has pre-activity questions that require students to read this article).  The links below will get you that far.

  1. Avida-Ed Website
  2. Testing Darwin by Carl Zimmer in February 2005 edition of Discover magazine.

If you are a self learner, after downloading the Avida-Ed, open it, drag the @ancestor into the black area of the Petri Dish window to the right, select the play button, and have fun.  Otherwise, keep reading…

Well, as I said, I have had the time to make my way through the unedited model lessons posted on the Avida-Ed website.  In effort to prepare to introduce my freshman honors biology and AP Biology student for the software, I have cut and pasted, edited, and created (in some cases) more detailed step-by-step instructions for the activities presented in their models lesson.  In a few cases, I have even collected and attached data in a teachers section at the end of the student friendly documents that help you understand what the students will be doing prior to your own exploration of the software.

Explorations in Evolution Series

  1. I – Introduction to Avida-Ed
  2. II – Observing an Instance of Evolution in Avida-Ed
  3. III – How do Resource Availability & Mutation Rate influence Avidian Fitness?
  4. IV – Observing Mutations in the Genomes of Evolving Avidians
  5. V – Common Misconceptions of Evolution

I look forward to your comments and criticism of the activities but realize that I am just beginning to use these activities in my class for a second time.

As a justification for activities such as these, if you take the time to read the Bio2010 published by the National Academies as well as the most recent bulletin from HHMI (read Thinking like an Engineer and Add 56), you will quickly learn that we should be doing more to motivate our keen biology students to appreciate the importance of other scientific perspectives (mathematics, computer science, physic and engineering).  Similarly, we should be reaching out equally to those that are already bent toward study in these other fields and show them that they can fulfill there interests while helping to make new discoveries in the biological sciences.

Download the non-education version of Avida.

Enjoy!