January 15, 2009 (Vol. 29, No. 2)
Strong Points: Nice idea
Weak Points: Needs better design to be useful to students
I’m not quite sure what to make of a site that thinks the backwards spelling of ‘utopia’ equates with some sort of a software utopia. Aipotu was formerly known as the Molecular Genetics Explorer, and it is a free downloadable software package that attempts to simulate “the genetics, biochemistry, molecular biology, and evolution of organisms in a biologically reasonable and pedagogically relevant way.” The program contains four modules—Genetics (for explaining living things in terms of genes); Biochemistry (for explaining living things in terms of proteins); Molecular Biology (connects the first two modules to explain how genes encode proteins); and Evolution (explains how features change over time). The software looks fine as an idea, but I found it less than intuitive to use. The instructions for the program’s operation on the webpage were only slightly helpful. I’m not sure I’d recommend the current incarnation to a student hoping to learn these basic biological principles.