2009-ASCB-Press-Book - page 10

T h e A m e r i c a n s o c i e t y f o r C e l l B i o l o g y
News from
The American Society
for Cell Biology
49th Annual Meeting
San Diego, CA
December 5–9, 2009
Teen video gamers
acquire immunity
10:00 am, U.S. Pacific Time
Tuesday, December 8, 2009
Melanie Ann Stegman
Federation of American
1725 DeSales St., NE, 6th Floor
Washington, DC 20036
(202) 454-4681
Author presents
Tuesday, December 8, 2009
11:00 am–12:30 pm
Poster Session 3: Pre-College
and College Science Education
Program 2356
Board B733
Exhibit Halls D–H
Immune Attack, a Video Game
in the Molecular World
M. Stegman, M. Fox
Learning Technologies
Program, Federation of
American Scientists,
Washington, DC
In a “shoot-’em-up” video game,
teens flying “microbot” fighters
against bacterial pathogens
significantly increase their
knowledge of the immune system
he educational psychologist Jerome
Brunner pointed out that by the
time most children start school,
they have an instinctive grasp of the
grammar of their native tongue. Today
most seventh graders start with an in-
stinctive grasp of pop music, pro sports,
and consumer electronics. Few have the
biological “grammar” of the human im-
mune system or even basic cell biology at
their fingertips.
Enter Immune Attack, a highly pol-
ished, “fly around and shoot ’em up”
computer game devised by Melanie
A. Stegman and Michelle L. Fox of the
Learning Technologies Program at the
Federation of American Scientists in
Washington, DC. Immune Attack is a
“third-person shooter” in the vocabu-
lary of video games, yet it has an ulterior
motive—plunging 7th–12th graders into
the microscopic world
of immune system
proteins and cells. The
mission in Immune At-
tack is to save a patient
suffering from a raging
bacterial infection, but
the goal of its designers
is to give game players
intuitive knowledge of
the cellular world.
This approach
seems to work. Using
players of a nonmo-
lecular medical mystery
video game as a control,
Stegman and Fox tested
Immune Attack play-
ers. Against the control
group, the students
In this screen shot from Immune Attack 2.0, the Microbot (lower left) spots
monocyte (blue) cells sailing past a vein where an infection lurks. The
monocytes should be snagged by selectin proteins on the vein surface, but
instead they fly by unaware. In the main screen, the player has discovered
the problem and is using the PMTD (Protein Mimic Targeting Device) of the
Nanobot to plant selectin protein mimics on the vein surface.
who had played Immune Attack showed
highly significant gains in confidence with
molecular science–related materials and
significant gains in their knowledge of cell
biology and molecular science.
In Immune Attack, the player’s
mission is to identify the proteins and
cells responsible for the malfunction of
a patient’s immune system. Remotely
controlling the Microbot Explorer (named
for its 25-micron diameter), players travel
through the bloodstream and connective
tissue, interacting at the nanometer scale
with receptors, hormones, and lipids.
Stegman reports that an advisory panel
of 20 active scientists peer reviews each
“mission” to keep the game accurate and
challenging. Students can design their
own game levels or write three-sentence/
two-reference additions to the onboard
database. Submissions are posted online,
and the most popular additions are incor-
porated into the game.
The first edition of Immune Attack is
available for free download at ImmuneAt-
tack.org. Immune Attack 2.0 should be
released in early 2010, says Stegman.
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