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LAB ESCAPE: Can you escape the lab?

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Creating LAB ESCAPE: A Synthetic Biology Video Game

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The iGEM 2012 Calgary team ventured into new territory by developing a video game centred on synthetic biology called LAB ESCAPE. As scientists, we are often asked, “What exactly do you do all day?” and “What do you mean you can see DNA?” Our video game provides an opportunity to educate and entertain the player by guiding them through a routine experiment used by the iGEM 2012 Calgary team. LAB ESCAPE focuses on gel electrophoresis – a common molecular biology technique to separate and visualize DNA from PCR and restriction digests. We also incorporated basic laboratory safety procedures to further immerse the player in the research experience.

LAB ESCAPE is part science, part fun, and all iGEM.

From Storyboard to Application

The initial stage in the development of LAB ESCAPE focused on creating an engaging environment resembling a typical synthetic biology research lab. We then created a script outlining the player's actions as they find themselves locked in the lab, progress through the tasks to find the secret code, and (hopefully) escape. We originally wanted to incorporate numerous experimental techniques, but we decided to focus on one common technique - gel electrophoresis. This avoided over-whelming the player with multiple experiments and also kept the time required to an optimal level. Once the scene was set we jumped into the world of video game creation.

The iGEM 2012 Calgary team created all the graphical images for LAB ESCAPE using Adobe Illustrator. Adobe Flash was used as the platform for the programming code creating LAB ESCAPE, with some programming code being modified from open-source repositories. With these tools, we designed a ‘point-and-click’ adventure video game, where the player collects items hidden throughout the virtual environment, then complete a task to obtain the code required to open the locked lab door. We even composed our own musical soundtrack!!

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After completing the first build of LAB ESCAPE, we challenged members of the iGEM 2012 Calgary team to escape from the lab. After incorporating the comments from our teammates, we then released the game to our friends, family and other willing volunteers to gather further feedback from people with a wide variety of backgrounds and experiences.

By September 2012, we had a completely functional video game to share with the world. We premiered LAB ESCAPE at the TELUS SPARK science centre in Calgary on September 29 and 30, 2012. During the premier event, people of all ages enjoyed LAB ESCAPE and learned about synthetic biology. With our iGEM wiki going live in early October even more people have enjoyed LAB ESCAPE.

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The Challenge: Can you escape LAB ESCAPE?

Now that you have all the background information on the creation of LAB ESCAPE, it's time to see if you can escape! All you have to do is collect all the misplaced items needed to run your gel electrophoresis, find the code and escape the lab. It may sound easy, but science is often easy - in theory. One hint for those of you that made it this far: remember that many chemicals in research labs can be quite dangerous. Appropriate safety equipment is always required before working on any experiments.

Finally, while good science should never be rushed, competition often leads to greatness. Keep an eye on the timer and see how quickly you can escape LAB ESCAPE.