In this project we ask - what determines the ability of a virus to infect some hosts but not others? Working with evolutionary biologist Ben Longdon, we're developing a citizen science project using visual programming, craft, tangible interfaces and games to explore virus host shifts – where a virus jumps from one host species to another.
Players will build virus genomes by drag-and-dropping collectable blocks representing viral genes; these will code for different traits like mode of transmission, virulence level and symptom types. Viruses created by players will jump between species on a ‘small planet’ with layers representing ecological niches (treetops, ground, aquatic) populated by different species of interacting hosts. Virus host shifts will depend on the ecological interactions and relatedness of hosts. Players will be able to mutate and compete their viruses to see how natural selection shapes virus evolution.
We launched with a workshop in April 2017 to co-research virus genetics and structure, and use craft approaches to explore ways of building modifiable viral structures for informing the tangible interface design.
The project runs from 2017-2022 and is funded by the Wellcome Trust. Additional funding has been provided by the Cultivator Skills Development Programme (the European Social Fund, Arts Council England and Cornwall Council).