Petri Dish encourages inquiry in two ways. First, its open-ended nature enables a player to design her own challenges and pose her own “what-if” scenarios for exploration and analysis. Second, grounding everything in a core set of local mechanisms that are intuitive to understand stimulates a player to wonder about those things she doesn’t understand, inviting questions and further investigations.

Problems Players May Pose Themselves

  • Can I design a predatory cell? When my predatory cell kills another cell, is it more efficient to ingest and then digest, or digest and then ingest? How can a colony respond and defend itself against predatory bacteria?
  • Can I set up a sustainable ecosystem in an evironment with finite resources with an autotroph and heterotroph? What does the population ratio look like? How large of a shock can the ecosystem sustain and still recover?
  • Can I design a colony with cells that differentiate to form “tissues”, such as a vascular system that delivers nutrients from the center of the colony to the edge where new growth occurs? As this colony grows in area and the vascular system has to transport nutrients over greater distances, how does that affect transport efficiency? Is there a maximum size limit for vascular colonies?
  • If I design a petri dish where half of the dish is rich in glucose and the other half is rich in oxygen, can I design two colonies (one designed to extract and transport glucose and the other to extract and transport oxygen) that will establish a symbiotic relationship and exchange nutrients? How does that compare to a single colony with cells that can differentiate and adapt to the two different environments?
  • Can I design a cell that functions like a spore, storing nutrients and going into a state of hibernation in hostile conditions and then switching all of its systems back on and reproducing in favorable conditions? How low can its metabolism go? How sensitive should the trigger for spore formation be? We wouldn’t want the colony to start forming spores when not needed, but we also wouldn’t want the colony to react too late and die.

Questions Players May Wonder About

  • How do proteins work? How do they selectively grab onto molecules and how do they do physically move molecules?
  • How does a strand of nucleotide molecules encode a sequence of amino acids for building a protein?
  • What are the actual mechanisms for gene expression?
  • How do phospholipids form plasma membranes? Why can some molecules diffuse through a plasma membrane while others can’t?
  • Petri Dish uses these energy particles to power proteins. What do real cells use? How do proteins even use energy?
  • How do molecules contain or store energy? Is glucose unique in some way?
  • How does sexual reproduction work?
  • We analyzed which organelles a cell should build first in Petri Dish. How do our findings match up to what happens in nature?
  • How much energy and food does a single cell really use?
  • How large is the metabolic network in a human cell? How large is our genome? Why and how are we mapping genomes?
  • How is a colony with cells that differentiate different from a multicellular organism?
  • Cells have a lot of interacting systems. Which of those systems evolved first?