Sci-Fi Storm

Spore begets NGC special How to Build a Better Being

by on Sep.08, 2008, under Television

The highly anticipated game Spore came out yesterday, but is there a scientific basis to the game? Just how did we evolve to have two arms, two legs, and walk upright? The National Geographic Channel’s How to Build a Better Being (Tuesday, Sept. 9th, 10pm ET) explores just that, and uses Spore to visualize it. Read More for the press release, and catch the first ten minutes here at MSN.


From Hand to Fin to Wing, How to Build a Better Being Examines Unexpected Genetic
Truths Behind Highly Anticipated Simulation Game from Will Wright

How to Build a Better Being premieres on NGC Tuesday, Sept. 9, at 10:00 p.m. ET/PT

(WASHINGTON, D.C. ??? AUGUST 21, 2008) In the newest creation from Electronic Arts Inc. (EA) and
video game pioneer and “The Sims” mastermind Will Wright, Spore™ enables players to design a virtual
galaxy of new life, such as a one-eyed web-footed creature with a snout, and then control their species’
evolution. But how much real-world science is behind this groundbreaking new game? And what genetic
connections do people share with a universe of strange organisms?

On Tuesday, Sept. 9, at 10:00 p.m. ET/PT, National Geographic Channel (NGC) presents the premiere of
How to Build a Better Being, the companion documentary to the highly anticipated new video game
Spore, which will be released nationally on Sunday, Sept. 7. The show, which is also included in the limited
run of the collectable “Spore Galactic Edition,” joins Wright and leading scientists in exploring the genetic
information we share with all animals ??? even creatures we could never have envisioned. From prehistoric
fish with wrists to 8-ton elephants with trunks, get powerful new insight into the origin of species and how
our prized parts came to be. Then see how evolutionary creature-making is translated into a brave new
world of gaming.

“What are the things that evolution has at its disposal to define a creature, to mix and
match the parts, and eventually come up with a unique organism that???s going to live
its life and try to reproduce?”

??? Will Wright, gaming innovator, EA???s Maxis Studio

Spore allows players to design bizarre creatures that mate, compete against predators, obtain better body
parts and, if they survive, ultimately become spacefaring voyagers. Replicating creature-making within
electronic gaming required Wright to develop an understanding of how evolution invents, recycles and
repurposes parts. In How to Build a Better Being, Wright consults with top scientists on the latest
discoveries in DNA development and explores how creatures with antennas, wings and six legs share a
common family tree with all of us.

At UC Berkeley???s Fly Lab, meet geneticist Michael Levine ??? a key figure in a new science called “evo-devo”
that studies embryonic development ??? who offers Wright creative new insight into how genes build bodies
and how the process can go terribly awry. Levine demonstrates with a mutant fruit fly that has legs where
its antennae should be. We learn that eight master genes are so essential during development that any
problems in these building blocks can transform a creature into a catastrophe.

These same genes don’t exist just in flies; they’re in animals and people, too. “With over 100,000 genes,
we think we have genes that a lowly fruit fly would know nothing about. But this is not true,” explains
Levine. “All animals, including humans, have a very similar set of basic genes, and yet we???re so different.”
Therefore, the finished body part may vary, from fins to wings to fingers, but underneath the exterior the
genetic chassis is the same.

Next, we look at one of our strangest and most remote ancestors on the evolutionary tree: a worm.
Paleontologist Neil Shubin explains how an ancient worm laid the foundation for our basic body plan.
Symmetrical, streamlined, bilateral and laid out head to tail, most animal life on the planet is built on this
fundamental design. For Spore, developers realized that making creatures bilateral, or identical on either
side, needed to be hard-wired.

Then learn how something as versatile as a hand got its start in a 375-million-year-old fish with a neck and
a wrist. Using the Spore game’s unique visualization tools, Shubin gets a chance to bring the prehistoric
fish to life. Other scientists, such as marine biologist and National Geographic Emerging Explorer Tierney
Thys, strive to design the “ultimate animal” by using extensive knowledge of animal diversity ??? like sea
stars that move on hundreds of tube legs and travel in any direction.

“It’s kind of a biologist’s dream to be able to design your own animal,” says Thys, “to pick and choose the
traits of animal groups that you most enjoy ??? Oh my gosh, I love this.”

2 Comments for this entry

  • PumpHunter

    On a different note

    Do you have to include html tags in the RSS feed? I don’t think they are supposed to, and they certainly only display as weird tags.

    • Doc

      Re:On a different note

      I don’t believe there is anything restricting the use of the tags – its up to the software using it to deal with it. I have been using them all along, for what is about to be 7 years…

Looking for something?

Use the form below to search the site:

Still not finding what you're looking for? Drop a comment on a post or contact us so we can take care of it!