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Dicey play for DNA

May 17, 2005 By Roxanne Khamsi This article courtesy of Nature News.

Board game for geneticists is modelled on Monopoly.

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In the world of HapMapopoly, geneticists don't go to jail. Instead, a stroke of bad luck in this board game sends them to their least favourite limbo: a teleconference.

On 13 May, scientists attending the Biology of Genomes meeting at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, Long Island, had the chance to try out the new and nerdy game. The structure of the board loosely resembles that of the well-known game Monopoly, in which players aim to bag the most real estate and amass wealth. But HapMapopoly replaces the swank addresses with institutions such as the Beijing Genomics Institute and the Wellcome Trust.

The glory of the game does not come from getting rich, according to Morris Foster, an ethnohistorian at the University of Oklahoma, Norman, who helped to design the rules. Instead players roll the dice to move pieces around the board and collect enough funding to sequence DNA samples. The first to complete this genotyping work and publish a groundbreaking analysis in a reputable journal wins.

"We want to give a sense of what it is like to be involved in the HapMap consortium in a funny way," Foster says, referring to the international partnership of scientists working to find genes associated with human disease.

As in real life, people have to keep their spirits up even when a mishap occurs. Those who land on the 'Community Resources' spot on the board must pick up a card that often bears unfortunate news. Players might, for example, take a card telling them that their lab received incorrect priming sequences from suppliers (necessary to produce large quantities of target DNA) and make them lose a turn. Landing on the teleconference spot also results in a lost turn.

Real diversion

Each person starts out with an initial grant of $10 million, and receives an additional $2 million by passing the 'Go!' square. This is a large inflation from the $200 traditionally earned in Monopoly by circumnavigating the board. But the money goes quickly in each round, as each sequencing service costs at least $5 million. Fortunately, players who land on facilities they have already purchased receive 50% off of the DNA sequencing cost.

Completing the sequencing scorecard takes time. "There are some things that move you forward, but you also get a sense of the repetitiveness of the whole process by going round and round," says Foster, who is a member of HapMap's ethical, legal, and social issues group.

Several hundred copies of HapMapopoly were distributed at the meeting in Long Island. Its creators say the game will not be marketed. But some attendees have been talking about selling their copies on the online auction site eBay.


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