The Science Of Bioshock: Plasmids and Genetic Augmentation

 

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Scientifically, the concepts behind the fiction are real.

Bioshock is a very popular, and terrifying video game franchise released by 2K Games and Irrational Games. The main storyline follows Jack, who finds himself in this hostile environment and figures out how to survive along the way. Jack learns about how to augment his DNA through the injection of various plasmids.  He would not survive without the abilities they provided – including shooting electricity, immolating objects, and telekinesis.  Though these augmentations are not yet a reality today, scientifically, the concepts behind the fiction are real. Plasmids, stem cells, and genetic modification all have real world applications.

 

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In this first person adventure game set in an underwater city called Rapture, the city’s founder, Andrew Ryan, had created a utopia where scientific progress made changing our biology a reality.  The city was an experiment, with its people as its test subjects, harnessing God-like powers and wielding them carelessly with the idea that Man and Man’s progress creates his own destiny. Positively, it gave humans supernatural abilities.  Negatively, these abilities created monstrous and other horrific effects on humans.

 

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The potential to change genetic makeup would become more possible.

Certain natural phenomena, and biotech advances enable the augmentation of DNA, including plasmids, viruses, transposons, and the introduction of synthetic DNA.

Plasmids are small loops of DNA found within bacteria that grant different traits and genetic advantages from organism to organism.

Viruses are expert genetic hackers that exist to replicate. They enter cells and control the cells’ DNA, making viruses an extremely useful tool in genetic research.

Transposons are short lengths of DNA that are able to move from one location in a genome to another.  Many transposons carry antibiotic resistance genes and other advantageous traits, spreading these traits throughout a population.

Synthetic DNA constructs can be introduced into human cells, existing independently from the rest of the genome—a human artificial chromosome (HAC).  The potential to change genetic makeup would become more possible.

There are a lot of potential benefits to DNA augmentation methods, fighting diseases and resistant bacteria to name a few.  Some themes that are at play within the Bioshock world include how to proceed when faced with choices to enhance and protect ourselves.  If given the ability to simply augment your genetic makeup to heal oneself, or gain powers, at the possible cost of unforeseen negative effects, what would you do?

Media

Some media may contain mature content. Discretion is advised when viewing with students.

BioShock Cut-Scene - first time plasmid use: The Science of Games - BioShock: Bioshock Plasmids:
Lesson Plan

This lesson is meant to provide an introduction to recent advances in genetics and technology that have brought science a step closer to the fictional possibilities proposed in Bioshock.

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Lesson tags: Bioshock, Eleventh, Featured, Genetics, Science, STEM, Tenth, Twelfth, Video Games

Melissa Pelletier

Melissa has a Masters in Educational Communication and Technology from NYU. She has worked in academic publishing, games, and the educational toys industries.